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A new recording by tenor James Benjamin Rodgers explores the Weill repertoire

Exiled: The Evolution of Kurt Weill is a new CD produced by tenor James Benjamin Rodgers singing a selection of nine songs by Kurt Weill, most of which were involved with his theatrical projects. Rodgers’ piano accompanist for his performances is Kenneth Merrill. The recording is a useful “companion” for those interested in Stephen Hinton’s extensive study of Weill, Weill’s Music Theater: Stages of Reform. While the 36 minutes of music on this disc cannot cover the entire subject matter of Hinton’s book, the recording provides a valuable introduction to many of the lesser-known songs discussed in that book.

Cover of the recording being discussed
from Amazon.com (photograph by Yousef Karsh)

The selections themselves are part of an overall narrative about Weill’s life and works that Rodgers developed while learning this material. In fact, he has prepared a performance setting in which he gives a spoken account of that narrative between singing the songs themselves. He has also created a “virtual” version of that performance as a Web site. For each of the songs, that site provides the text of Rodgers’ narrative, the words of the song (including English translation when the original language is not English), and streaming audio of the music. This all amounts to an excellent way to supplement Hinton’s more exhaustive study with more focused accounts of the music itself.

Like Hinton, Rodgers appreciates that Weill deserves to be known for far more than the music he composed for the theatrical projects of Bertolt Brecht. While the overall duration of this CD is not particularly long, each song has been chosen judiciously to illustrate a specific aspect of the Weill biographical narrative. Yet, for all of the valuable scholarship that has gone into Rodgers’ effort, the result still makes for a thoroughly engaging listening experience from a singer adept at shaping his voice to accommodate Weill’s many rhetorical nuances.