They were some couple: artist and muse, Jewish and Catholic, owlish composer and flighty songbird. She was unfaithful to him, he was only faithful to his music, and neither could live without the other.
As Mordden (The Guest List: How Manhattan Defined American Sophistication, 2010) puts it, Kurt Weill (1900–1950) and Lotte Lenya (1898–1981) were “an odd couple, she so outgoing and curious and he so taciturn, as if he already knew everything worth knowing.” They would marry, divorce and remarry, and Lenya slept around as Weill studied his sheet music. (“But, Lenya,” he once told her, “you know you come right after my music!”) They met in Weimar Berlin at its inflationary, artistic, criminal and pre-Nazi peak—“the Wild West without a sheriff”—which Weill and a smelly, hectoring blowhard named Bertolt Brecht would brutally satirize in The Threepenny Opera. The reaction was mixed: Most people loved it, but the Nazis hated it. The thugs didn’t like his later shows either—one reviewer was shocked at how Weill, “a Jew, makes use of the German opera stage for his anti-German goals.” Weill and Lenya fled to Paris in 1933 (bad idea) and then America. Weill, who “could put on a musical style like socks,” flourished in the melting pot; Lenya, in between air pilots and choir boys, was his constant anchor. With smart, chatty and occasionally hilarious prose (“Richard Rodgers was the only composer with whom Weill was holding a hard-on contest”), Mordden ably captures both artists and their ever-changing geographical and professional locales.
The title cheats a little—it's more about him than her—but this is a lively, baroque account of two very cool cats, these opposites who attracted.