BERG Lulu • Franz Welser-Möst, cond; Laura Aiken (Lulu); Alfred Muff (Dr. Schön); Peter Straka (Alwa); Cornelia Kallisch (Countess Geschwitz); Guido Gotzen (Schigolch); Steven Davislim (Painter); Rolf Haunstein Read more(Athlete); Zurich Op O • ARTHAUS 101 565 (DVD:164:00) Live: Zurich 2002
& Lulu—The Lethal Victim
For this riveting production of Lulu, filmed in 2002, the Zurich Opera presents Berg’s two-act version, rather than the three-act completion of Friedrich Cerha that was first performed in 1979 by Pierre Boulez. In a 34-minute extra directed by Reiner E. Moritz—I’ve admired his features accompanying several Wagner videos—conductor Franz Welser-Möst convincingly justifies the decision to perform Lulu as the composer left it: “[Berg] himself once said that he should redesign the entire third act. And I think that, as good as Cerha’s work was in finishing the third act, this statement of his allows us to play it as a torso.” So, we get the two acts first staged in 1937 (in Zurich, by the way) with the Variations and Adagio from the Lulu Suite used as a conclusion.
The stage director for Zurich’s Lulu is Sven-Eric Bechtolf and, incredibly, this difficult work is his first experience with opera. Welser-Möst informs us that Bectholf was extremely well prepared when he came to the first rehearsals and the strength of his dramatic vision is palpable. Often, the title character is portrayed as a femme fatale, a quasi-psychopathic, male-devouring monster. But Bechtolf rightly explains that the information that Lulu was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, at the hands of Dr. Schön, is clearly contained in Berg’s libretto. At a number of points during the opera, a pale girl in white appears who we understand to be Lulu’s earlier self. For the interlude between the two scenes of act II, Berg specified that this Filmmusik was to accompany a “palindromic” silent movie recounting the course of Lulu’s life over the year following her killing Schön. Instead, Bechtolf has filmed a nightmarish recollection of her childhood violation. The young girl we’ve seen on stage is pursued through a forest and ultimately caught by an unseen attacker. Later, the girl is forcibly immersed in a pool of water; Lulu has been baptized into the hell-on-earth existence as a sexual object which she must endure until her gruesome end.
It’s the final minutes of this production that are the most devastating. Bechtolf has again ordered up a film, to be accompanied by the music from the Lulu Suite. Here, with exceptionably repulsive images involving blood and razors, we meet Jack the Ripper, slowly walking down an empty lane in bright sunshine holding a bunch of black balloons. The action transitions to the stage where Jack encounters young Lulu. He entices her with a balloon and then slits her throat as the adult Lulu watches, delivering her famous scream. It’s clear that Jack and Dr. Schön are one and the same, and we are reminded that it was Schon who essentially ended her life years before her actual death. Lulu tells us this in act II, just before she shoots the Doctor: “Though you have given me your later and riper years, from me, you’ve had my whole youth in exchange.”
Welser-Möst’s command of Berg’s idiom is impressive and he makes the most of purely instrumental sections. Comparing such passages to Mahler, he offers, “The intermezzos in this piece are not merely music to link one scene to the other or material that leads out of one scene into another. They are atmospheric snapshots, images of the soul.” Welser-Möst has an excellent cast—Alfred Muff (Dr. Schön), Peter Straka (Alwa), and Cornelia Kallisch (Countess Geschwitz) are especially strong—but the success of any Lulu, of course, rides on the abilities of the singer in the title role. The American soprano Laura Aiken is extraordinarily qualified to represent Lulu—vocally, dramatically, and, yes physically (she’s quite the temptress in a see-through body stocking in act I)—and radiates erotic power every moment she’s on stage. Aiken moves effortlessly from Sprechstimme to traditional singing and shapes Lulu’s music sensitively and confidently. Aiken presents her character as a “lethal victim,” to use the title of the Moritz feature. In the words of the soprano, Lulu is “destructive, not self-destructive,” and Aiken’s representation is as vital and compelling as Teresa Stratas’s in Boulez’s inaugural recording of the three-act version.
The video production is well done and the sound is good, though, as usual with traditional DVD, you’re better off with stereo PCM than with one of the compressed 5.1 formats (Dolby Digital and DTS.) A Blu-ray iteration would be most welcome. Arthaus provides subtitles in German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian.
FANFARE: Andrew Quint
Lulu – Laura Aikin
Gräfin Geschwitz – Cornelia Kallisch
Der Medizinalrat – Peter Keller
Der Maler – Steve Davislim
Dr. Schön – Alfred Muff
Alwa – Peter Straka
Schigolch – Guido Götzen
Der Gymnasiast – Andrea Bönig
Theatergardrobiere – Katharina Peetz
Tierbändiger / Der Athlet – Rolf Haunstein
Der Prinz / Kammerdiener – Martin Zysset
Der Theaterdirektor – Werner Gröschel
Kind – Lynn Lange
Zurich Opera House Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
Sven-Eric Bechtolf, stage director
Rolf Glittenberg, set designer
Marianne Glittenberg, costume designer
Jürgen Hoffmann, lighting designer
Recorded live from the Zurich Opera House, 2002
- Lulu: The Lethal Victim – A film by Reiner E. Moritz
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian
Running time: 130 mins (opera) + 34 mins (bonus)
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9) Read less
Works on This Recording
Luluby Alban Berg Performer:
Peter Straka (Tenor),
Peter Keller (Tenor),
Laura Aikin (Soprano),
Cornelia Kallisch (Mezzo Soprano),
Alfred Muff (Baritone),
Steve Davislim (Tenor)
Zurich Opera House Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1929-1935; Austria
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