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Biography

Lotte Lenya (October 18, 1898 – November 27, 1981), singer and actress, born Karoline Wilhelmine Blamauer, in Vienna, Austria. She is best known for her performance as Jenny in Kurt Weill's and Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera, and some other Brecht-Weill plays. To a younger audience, she is known for her part as the villain Rosa Klebb in the James Bond movie From Russia with Love.

As a child of working class Roman Catholic parents, Lenya wanted to be a dancer. She moved to study in Zurich, Switzerland in 1914, taking up her first job at the Schauspielhaus using the stage name Lotte Lenja. She moved to seek work in Berlin, in 1921. The following year she was seen by her future husband, the German composer Kurt Weill during an audition, although they did not meet properly until 1924 through a mutual acquaintance, the writer Georg Kaiser. Lenya married Kurt Weill in 1926.

After she accepted the part of Jenny in the first performance of The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper) in 1928, the part became her breakthrough role. During the last years of the Weimar Republic, she was busy in film and theatre, and especially in Brecht-Weill plays. She also made several recordings of her husband's songs. In these, she sang in a high, wavering pitch with a strange contrast.

With the rise of Nazism in Germany, she left the country, having become estranged from Weill. In March 1933, she fled to Paris, France where she sang the leading part in Brecht-Weill's "sung ballet" The Seven Deadly Sins.

She divorced Weill in 1933 but reunited with him in September 1935, when they both emigrated to the United States. They remarried in 1937. In 1941, the couple moved to a house of their own in New City, Rockland County, New York, roughly 50 km north of New York City. Their second marriage lasted until Weill's death in 1950.

During World War II, Lenya — now spelling her stage name with a 'y' — did a number of stage performances, recordings and radio performances, including for the Voice of America. After a badly received part in her husband's musical The Firebrand of Florence in 1945 in New York, she withdrew from the stage. After her husband's death she was coaxed back to the stage. She appeared on Broadway in Barefoot in Athens and married writer George Davis.

In 1956 she won a Tony Award for her role as Jenny in Marc Blitzstein's English version of The Threepenny Opera. Lenya went on to record a number of songs from her time in Berlin, as well as songs from the American theater. Her voice had grown a lot deeper than during her first success as a performer. When she was to sing the soprano part in Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and The Seven Deadly Sins, the part needed transposition to substantially lower keys.

Sprechstimme always was a method of singing well-adapted to the Brecht-Weill plays, but now she used it even more to compensate for the shortages of her voice. Lenya was aware of this as a problem; in other contexts she was very careful about fully respecting her late husband's score. She founded the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, to administer incomes and issues regarding rights, and to spread knowledge about Weill's work.

She was present in the studio when Louis Armstrong recorded Brecht-Weill's "Mack the Knife" and also performed the song with him as a duet. Armstrong improvised the line "Look out for Miss Lotte Lenya!" and added her name to the long list of Mack's female victims in the song. After the death of George Davis in 1957, she married the artist Russell Detwiler in 1962; he died at age 44 in 1969.

In 1963, she got the part as the lesbian SPECTRE-agent Rosa Klebb in the James Bond movie From Russia with Love, starring, among others, Sean Connery and Daniela Bianchi. In the final scene in the film, she wore a pair of shoes with knives sticking out. She later said in interviews that when she met new people, the first thing they looked at was her shoes.

In 1966, Lenya originated the role of Fraulein Schneider in the original Broadway cast of the musical Cabaret.

Lenya died in New York from cancer in 1981 at the age of 83.

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