Lulu at the English National Opera
Alban Berg’s work Lulu is rarely performed. With Schoenberg as a teacher, the music from this second Viennese composer is 12 note music and atonal. The opera was left unfinished at Berg’s death in 1935 and the complete opera was not performed in its entirety until 1979 when the Paris Opera, under the baton of Pierre Boulez, brought the whole 3 acts to a wider audience.
Somehow the conductor, Mark Wigglesworth, manages to draw a complete and sympathetic reading of the difficult score from the ENO orchestra. It is a musical performance of great courage and the evening flows beautifully as a result. He is lucky to be working with the South African director, William Kentridge, who is best known for his prints, drawings and animated films. These are constructed by filming a drawing, making erasures and changes, then filming it again. This is how he makes his staging so complete.
The sets themselves are fairly simple and apart from the non-stop visual backdrop through Kentridge’s drawing designs, there is the constant presence of a female mannequin representing Lulu’s alter ego. The singing is generally strong with a flexible and sexy American Lulu in Brenda Rae, who acts the part so well, although her voice is rather on the light side. Her lesbian admirer, the Countess Geschwitz, is energetically sung by the wonderful Sarah Connolly and there are good performances also from the painter Michael Colvin and the Schigolch of Willard White. James Morris was an aged husband to Lulu, Dr Schon, ultimately Jack the Ripper. Whilst his voice might be slightly worn now, the Alwa of Nicky Spence was as fresh as a daisy in an outstanding performance. Most other parts were well sung. However interesting the performance, the music was never going to be easy on the ear.
With kind regards,
Wednesday, 9 November 2016