Fathom Events' Met Opera's "Lulu": Iced Berg

Marlis Petersen as Berg's "Lulu"
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)

The Metropolitan Opera's latest HD Live broadcast is Alban Berg's "Lulu", his sordid tale of the complicated temptress who disrupts the lives of all who surround her. Unabashedly lurid, this is a challenging piece to say the least, especially with its relatively unapproachable music. It's not a particularly popular work, though its fans are avid. However, it's undeniably unsavory, and, as opera plots go, this one is a real lulu.

In a prologue, the Animal Trainer invites us to visit his menagerie, including “the serpent Lulu”, the cold-as-ice “heroine” of this story. Lulu (Marlis Petersen) is sitting for her portrait by The Painter (Paul Groves), with her lover Schön (Johan Reuter) in attendance, when her husband The Physician rushes in, discovers her and collapses in shock, dying. Later, after Lulu and The Painter are married, they are visited by the aged Schigolch (Franz Grundheber) who is either her father or a former lover, when she hears Schön has become engaged. Schön tells her husband about her lurid past, causing him to cut his throat. Lulu is indifferent to the suicide, convinced Schön will marry her. His son Alwa (Daniel Brenna) composes a ballet for Lulu to perform but she refuses when she sees Schön in the audience with his fiancée. Lulu convinces him to break off his engagement. Later, now married to Schön, she continues to attract admirers, including Alwa and the lesbian Countess Geschwitz (Susan Graham), causing Schön to insist that Lulu shoot herself to protect his reputation. Instead, she shoots and kills him. Committed to a hospital with cholera, she plans her escape by arranging for The Countess to take her place. Alwa reaffirms his love for Lulu and agrees to take her to his Paris mansion, where they have a raucous birthday party for her, broken up by the police just as she leaves. Later, Alwa, living in a cheap London garret, confronts Lulu, now a prostitute, as she brings home her first client. The Countess enters with Lulu's portrait. Lulu brings home yet another client, who is killed by Alwa. Schigolch drags away the body and disappears. The Countess contemplates suicide when Lulu brings home another client, who turns out to be Jack the Ripper (Reuter again). Arguing about money, they go into her room. Her screams are heard as she is killed by Jack. Attempting to help, the Countess is also stabbed by Jack, who leaves as the Countess, dying, cries out one last time for Lulu.

The Met is fortunate that Petersen, who has made this role her international signature, has consented to perform it for one last run. Even those opera fans who detest twelve tone works will find her performance, both in acting and singing, truly magnetic. The entire cast sang the difficult score very well, and Conductor Lothar Keonigs led the orchestra superbly. The creative team was another matter, as Set Designer Sabine Theunissen and Projection Designer Catherine Meyburgh, in this production by William Kentridge, repeated their work seen in the Met's “The Nose”, but overly so, producing very drab visuals. The same could be said for Costume Designer Greta Goiris and Lighting Designer Urs Schönebaum. The expressive Live in HD Broadcast Host was Deborah Voigt.

It may never be one's favorite opera, but as it stands in this current version, it's at least never boring. But then, sin at this level rarely is either.

Encore broadcast will be shown on Wednesday December 2nd at 6:30pm at a theater near you.

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