Home is where the heart is for Ute Lemper. The internationally renowned singer, who makes a one-night visit to Herbst Theatre on Saturday, was born in Germany, but considers the U.S. — specifically New York — her home now.
“Germany was my youth and my upbringing,” she says, still sprinkling in a few phrases “auf Deutsch.” “But really, my home is here. I would feel very claustrophobic if that was my home.”
She describes her birthplace, Munster, as an “exciting university city,” but much more uptight than here. The “gesinnung” (German for attitude or disposition) there, she says, “is slightly conservative. Here I can be free in my head and say what I want and look the way I want.”
That desire for freedom and self-expression took Lemper to theater stages all around Europe. She played Vienna for the first German-language production of the musical “Cats,” in Paris she was Sally Bowles in the French premiere of “Cabaret” and in London she slinked away with “All That Jazz” in “Chicago.”
In and around the stage appearances she danced ballet for Maurice Bejart, took up painting, acted in films and on television, wrote songs, recorded several CDs and penned a memoir titled, appropriately enough, “Unzenziert” or “Uncensored.”
She laughs when reminded of the book: “That was 20 years ago, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was kind of a joke.”
The publisher offered a ghostwriter, but Lemper would have none of it. She says, “I told them I’ll just sit down at the schreibmaschine [typewriter] — and in those days it was a schreibmaschine — and I would just clack-clack-clack.”
On her current tour, which promotes the CD “Berlin Nights, Paris Days,” she is collaborating with the Vogler Quartet and Stefan Malzew, singing songs that take listeners on a journey through time via Europe and Argentina.
Lemper will sing in several languages and sample works by Piaf, Piazzolla, Brel and, of course, Kurt Weill.
Though rooted here with her family life (her fourth child was born last fall), Lemper frequently returns musically to the dark, complex and powerfully creative songs of Weimar, Germany.
“I cannot stress enough my life’s journey exploring repertoire inspired by art of the Weimar Republic,” she says. “This art form reflects other philosophical and cultural horizons, other political matters and other times.”
If You Go
Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $25 to $70
Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com