Alban Berg’s Lulu is one of the most demanding in the repertoire of 20th century operas, for performers and audiences. Following the rise and fall of the ultimate femme fatale who gets through three husbands and assorted lovers before meeting a grisly end at the hands of Jack the Ripper, it’s a wild ride through the politics of sex and speculation.
This much talked-about production stood out on the programme of cinema screenings from the Met Opera as one of the more intriguing prospects. We’re unlikely to see a performance of this notorious masterpiece in Ireland anytime soon. Another compelling factor was that Marlis Petersen, the German soprano who has ‘owned’ the role for the last 20 years, has announced that this will be her last Lulu.
Director William Kentridge’s approach is steeped in German expressionist art. The set was swamped with a projected collage of black ink drawings that change with dizzying rapidity. One could imagine that in the theatre, this must be very dramatic.
In the cinema, the effect is diluted as the camera cuts from the sets to close-ups of the singers. The men are nattily attired in 1930’s-style suits in vivid hues in contrast to Lulu who spends much of the opera clad in her scanties augmented with masculine clothing cast off by her consorts.
The 12-tone label, a legacy of Berg’s mentor, Schoenberg, sounds intimidating but Berg was less dogmatic in his application of this com positional technique and the work is surprisingly lyrical with hints of jazz and ragtime, at times reminiscent of Weill. The Met Orchestra under Lothar Koenigs impressed in the richly textured orchestral interludes.
The terrific cast includes Johan Reuter, Paul Groves and Daniel Brenna in his Met Opera debut. The interval chat with Franz Grundheber and TV host Deborah Voigt was a tender moment as the veteran recalled his first appearance at the Met 50 years ago. Susan Graham as Lulu’s staunch lesbian admirer offers one of the few notes of redemption and her poignant aria at the finale was a highlight.
The audience at the Odeon Cinema, Waterford, was meagre but the response was positive and there were few defections over four hours.