By: Sarah Downs
In the one-woman show Women of Bilbao featuring the music of Kurt Weill, Aimée Marcoux-Spurlock, a sunny, glamorous blonde, treats us to an evening redolent with images of Weimar Germany, a frisson of Lotte Lenya and song as sense memory. An experienced performer who has sung with opera companies and symphony orchestras across the country, Marcoux-Spurlock is a singing actress with an affinity for lyric that does not compromise the voice. Kicking off the evening with “Bilbao Song” she dives right into the drama of Germany in the late 1920’s, exploiting the song’s stylistic contrasts to great effect. At this the dawn of Hitler’s rise to power, Germany’s future was uncertain, and all areas of artistic expression from film to fine arts rooted themselves in that uncertainty. Weill’s collaboration with the post-Expressionist playwright Bertolt Brecht did not shy away from the grimmer aspects of that uneasiness. In their 1928 masterpiece Threepenny Opera, Weill and Brecht weave a chilling tale of a world where life is cheap. You feel it when Marcoux-Spurlock sings “Pirate Jenny.” Her direct characterization has you looking over your shoulder.
“Surabaya Johnny” was my favorite song of the evening. Marcoux-Spurlock digs in from the first note and never lets up. I found myself anxious at every twist and turn of the song’s narrative. Weill’s genius lay in his gift for matching haunting lyric to hypnotic melody, and that gift is most evident here. The song reaches its dramatic height through the power of Marcoux-Spurlock’s intensity. She wrings every drop of meaning out every word.
In his later collaborations with a veritable hit parade of America’s greatest lyricists, Weill explored more romantic terrain but remained true to his authentic, somewhat seditious voice. Ever wary of “happily ever after,” he is never quite convinced that nothing will go wrong. In “My Ship” set to a lyric by Ira Gershwin, a woman sings of her unsentimental longing for the right love or no love at all. It is the song of a woman, not an ingenue; the ship is a vision, not a goal. Marcoux-Spurlock conjures up this image with a hushed tenderness.
Throughout, Ms. Marcoux-Spurlock sings with musicality, great attention to detail and crystalline tone. Musical Director and pianist Doug Martin’s lush playing embraces her sound, propelling the evening forward. Singer and pianist are well matched. I did rather hanker for a few arrangements in a lower key to take full advantage of the range of Ms. Marcoux-Spurlock’s vocal color. However, her encore of “What Good Would the Moon Be” married seamlessly the operatic quality of her voice to a song which is, in its content and spirit, effectively an aria, for a pitch perfect end to the evening.
Women of Bilbao, performed February 3, 2017 at The Metropolitan Room (34 West 22nd St.); a cabaret of Kurt Weill music sung by Aimée Marcoux-Spurlock; Musical Director: Doug Martin; Creative Consultant: Michael Feingold.