While thumbing through the little book of Nerman sketches I was surprised to come across a drawing of Zarah Leander, the Swedish actress-singer. Her life and career have been the subject of much controversy because of her work in Germany during World War II. But that is not what surprised me – it was her association with that most gemütlich of operettas The Merry Widow. I have a hard time imagining her voice which verged on being baritone singing Vilija!!!!
My first memory of hearing her would have been on one of Otto Lowy’s early radio programmes singing Cole Porter’s Wunderbar from Kiss Me Kate. It become a bit of a signature piece for her after the war and I remember my mother wondering who that man was singing.
She continued to perform – as did many of those incredible European women who became household names in the years between, during and after World War II – as late as 1975 appearing as Madame Armfeldt in a production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music and reprising the role in the 1978 Stockholm production. It was during that run that she suffered a stroke and was forced to retire from the stage at the age of 71. Here she is singing, the most known number from that musical or any other of Sondheim’s works for that matter.
Perhaps its is her age, perhaps her circumstances that give this version an added poignancy. She had come a long way from the light hearted widow that Nerman captured back in 1931.
20 ottobre – LGBTQ Spirit Day