Lulu

I chose four operas to see during the Metropolitan Opera’s 2015/16 season. This year I decided to see them all live in HD at BAM Rose Cinema because I am particularly interested in the pre-performance lectures. Yesterday I saw my first: Lulu, composed by Alban Berg with Frank Wedekind as librettist. This opera, arguably the greatest of the 20th century, is not for the faint of heart, both in terms of Berg’s atonal music (based on Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique) as well as the intensely sexual themes in the opera. Indeed, by the first intermission, the audience had shrunk noticeably. Lulu is a femme fatale, seducing both men and women — shocking when the opera debuted in 1937, and still impactful today. She is both a victim and a victimizer. Her story is tragic, and we are spared nothing as we watch the ruin that follows her (and everyone in her path.) Before the opera began, the informative lecture by Fred Plotkin helped me place the opera in the context of the historical times during which it was written: World War I and the uncertainty and shifting moral sensibilities of the time. The cast was terrific: Susan Graham as the lesbian Countess Geschwitz; Daniel Brenna’s debut as the love-sick Alwa; and Johan Reuter as Dr. Schön/Jack the Ripper (yes, you read that correctly — you have to read the synopsis — it’s pretty over-the-top.) It was a thrill to watch Marlis Petersen as the sexy, vulnerable Lulu. (We learned that she will be retiring the role after 18 years of bringing this character to life in various productions.) Artist William Kentridge’s staging was fabulous. I had seen his production of The Nose live at the Metropolitan Opera, and I recently saw his chamber opera, Refuse the Hour. His artistic vision is a perfect fit with this opera, and I was delighted to see one of his multi-talented collaborators, Joanna Dudley, as a performer in this production.

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