Marlis Petersen as Lulu and Wolfgang Schöne as Dr. Schön
Photo: Dan Rest/LOC 2008
How does one evaluate an experience that one has nothing personally to compare to? That’s how I feel after seeing the Chicago Lyric Opera’s new production
of Alban Berg’s Lulu
. It was my first live experience with the opera and it was just as overwhelming for me as my first experiences with Wagner. I feel that even after four hours I’ve just barely scratched the surface of this masterpiece. If I were in Chicago, I’d make the effort to see every performance I could. However, all that being said, I’m not sure how it really rates on the gamut of Lulu
s overall. This is an opera that, in this country at least, still lives in the shadow of Pierre Boulez and Teresa Stratas. With so few American productions to reference, it seems nearly impossible to separate it from the sounds and images of one or maybe two legendary performances that have been preserved over the last 30 or so years since the opera arrived in its full three act form.
And yet, here it is in Chicago in all of its glory, you lucky bastards you. Obviously there were more than a few people who were intrigued by the presentation considering the house appeared nearly 70 percent full. For this opera on a Monday in the current economy, my friends, that is a big success. The orchestra was lovely under music director Sir Andrew Davis in the second time he has led this opera for the house. The performance was detailed and edgy if perhaps not as darkly beautiful as is possible. The cast includes two of the leading proponents of their respective roles – Marlis Petersen as Lulu and Wolfgang Schöne as Dr. Schön/Jack the Ripper. They are both excellent and Petersen’s take on the title character is both intellectually admirable and thoroughly engrossing. She manages Berg's quite difficult score with apparent ease and manages a wide variety of vocal technique throughout the evening. Neither victim nor perpetrator, her Lulu is doing the only things she knows how in a world not of her choosing or design. Meanwhile, the cast is rounded out with top-quality American performers. Jill Grove is Countess Geschwitz and nothing short of fantastic. Every time I see her I love her more and more, and her closing passages in Act III were shattering. The ever-handsome William Burden sang Alwa which makes sense given the more romantic qualities of his voice, but I wasn’t completely convinced that this was a prime role for him.
The new production was directed by Paul Curran whom I have not always had the highest regard for. However, this production was well thought out, looked sharp, and carried a big emotional wallop with plenty of decadence and more than a little explicit sexual activity. Infused with a 1920s German film glamor and updated about 30 years from its original setting, the opera takes place in a series of bright white rooms appropriately appointed with what you’d expect. Lulu in Act I has her portrait painted in a Harlequin costume, which later returns in a more revealing format for her backstage scene. In between the set changes, Curran uses the curtain and scrim to project a variety of black and white images tinged with small amounts of red to imply the coming action. Also included was the film Berg called for in the score during the Act II Interlude. Here Curran dove headlong into the German Expressionist style with great results. It's a straight-forward take on the opera as Curran usually prefers, but the angularity of the set design and the superb cast keeps things from getting boring.
So now is your chance, Chicago. This is an event that only comes around so often and it is a formidable one. It would be a shame to miss it.
Labels: Opera Review 08/09, Out of Town