Lichfield isn’t exactly Weimar Berlin. And Ute Lemper was the first to acknowledge the sheer, glorious incongruity of her performing at Lichfield Cathedral. “The Bishop told me not to do this” she shrugged, climbing atop the piano to launch another ballad of whores, hustlers and trampled hearts.
The Kurt Weill songbook is the bedrock of Lemper’s repertoire, but the title of this show – “Last Tango in Berlin” - pointed at a different direction. So the bandoneón player Tito Castro joined pianist Werner Vana Geirig on a smoke-shrouded stage, and alongside Bilbao-Song, Surabaya Johnny and Mack the Knife, Lemper spun and snarled through a series of Piazzolla standards, including a fiery Che Tango Che and a flamboyantly physical Yo Soy Maria.
In each of these, she deployed an extraordinary range of vocal colours; from throaty gasps to a tone of almost boy-like purity and sweetness. Lemper is a performer of breathtaking poise and charisma and if this meant that these songs felt - at times - more polished, and less lived-in than their content seemed to demand, there was no doubt that these were Lemper’s own readings: no mean achievement given the formidable performance tradition behind her.
Yet when she left Berlin or Buenos Aires, her personality expanded to fill the whole vast space: Jacques Brel’s Amsterdam and Ne me quitte pas were each sung as a huge, shattering single crescendo. It all added up to one hell of a show; by the end, the stained glass angels were starting to look distinctly blue.