BERG Lulu (3-act version, compl. Cerha) ? Paul Daniel, cond; Lisa Saffer (Lulu); Susan Parry (Geschwitz); John Graham-Hall (Alwa); Robert Hayward (Schön/Jack the Ripper); Robert Poulton (Acrobat); Gwynne Howell (SchigolchRead more class="ARIAL12">); English Natl Op O ? CHANDOS CHAN 3130 (3 CDs: 165:43 &)
Chandos began taping this English-language Lulu just a day after the ENO had completed their 2005 revival of Richard Jones?s highly regarded 2002 production. Even though it?s a studio effort, therefore, it still has the electricity of a live performance?and an exceptional live performance at that.
Any Lulu, of course, depends heavily on the vocal and acting skills of its lead?and even without what was by all accounts a stunning physical presence, Lisa Saffer makes a formidably complex anti-heroine. Pure-voiced and agile (despite a few strained high Ds), capable of extreme delicacy of musical gesture (try her first-act canzonetta), she turns in a seductively attractive account of the title part, offering sexuality without vulgarity, amorality without viciousness, imperiousness without obvious arrogance. It?s hard to resist her spell.
While a superlative Lulu is necessary for a performance to work, it?s far from sufficient?for despite Lulu?s centrality as the universal object of desire, Berg?s opera is an ensemble piece in a way that, say, Salome is not. Fortunately, Saffer is surrounded by a series of compelling singers who sing?even inhabit?their roles with an almost frightening conviction.
Robert Haywood captures Schön?s contradictory amalgam of haughtiness and subservience in a way that makes his final downfall as pitiable as it is deserved. Despite a few moments of excess effeteness (for instance, when he offers money to the Countess in the second scene of act II), John Graham-Hall plays against him well, a fluent and obtusely devoted Alwa. Robert Poulton forcefully brings to life the athlete?s awkwardness and misplaced self-confidence, building his malevolence inexorably as the opera moves on; and Susan Parry builds an arc in the opposite direction, sounding increasingly sympathetic as Countess Geschwitz as she grows into the closest thing the opera has to a moral center. Even the smaller roles go well: Alan Oke, for instance, has a wonderfully sleazy poise as the Marquis.
Still, next to Saffer, the most striking singer, to my ears, is Gwynne Howell as Schigolch. Since the character himself is dilapidated even before the opera begins, the cough-ridden part is often treated as a Wotan?s Burial Ground, a hand-out for the once-mighty who can no longer handle the big Wagnerian roles: Theo Adam recorded it with Schirmer when he was 70, and Hans Hotter took it on into his eighties. Howell was a relatively youthful 67 at these sessions?and although in character he doesn?t quite match Hotter?s paradoxically wise despair, his actual negotiation of the notes is refreshingly nimble. His attraction to Lulu is, as a consequence, more poignant and less absurd than it often is in lesser hands.
Paul Daniel?s conducting, slightly but not aggressively on the quick side, is neither as consistently voluptuous as Reck?s (26:3, two-act version) nor as alert to the musical slapstick as Böhm?s on his DG studio account (two-act version as well), much less as analytically astute as Boulez?s (on what was the premiere recording of the Cerha-completed score; 3:3, 10:4). But it is full of subtly weighted details (try, for instance, the perky sarcasm on the woodwinds at measure 292 in act I or the subtly shaded clarinet glissando at measure 476), and it?s more remarkable still for the prismatic way it transmits the music?s variety of expression, whether it be in the delightfully light-fingered backdrop to the often busy conversations, in the sleazy off-stage dance music of the second act (well placed by the engineers), in the luminous strings on Lulu?s return from prison, or in the unbearable intensity of the big ensemble scene that climaxes act III, scene 2.
Daniel and his singers get knowing support from the orchestra, which plays with the poise that comes in the wake of a theatrical run (special praise to the first trumpeter), shifting mood with quicksilver efficiency (note, for instance, the transition to a lush poignance in the Lento that starts at measure 615 in act I) and offering a transparency without iciness that enlivens many of the music?s more contrapuntally intricate scenes. They?re reasonably well captured by the engineers, too, even though some details get lost in the more heavily scored passages. As for Richard Stokes?s appropriately coarse translation: it generally matches the music well, but you still need to follow the libretto if you want the details.
Final assessment? Lulu still has, among some listeners, a reputation as a difficult modern opera?but by now it?s mainstream repertoire, and it has gathered up a rich recording history. I don?t think you could argue that this latest account erases memories of Stratas?s Lulu, of Fischer-Dieskau?s Schön, of Hotter?s Schigolch, of Ian Storey?s Alwa, nor of the conducting contributions of Boulez, Böhm, Maderna, and Reck. Still, if you?re looking for a single recording of the three-act version with a well-balanced cast and up-to-date sound, it?s an excellent choice; and if you want the opera in English, it has the field to itself.
FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
"The 2002 production of Berg's
Lulu by Richard jones is generally agreed to be one of the best things to come from troubled English National Opera in recent years. Chandos has done everyone a favour by transferring its 2005 revival lock, stock and smoking revolver from the opera house to the studio...This is important for several reasons.
Lulu can seem forbidding to the uninitiated. Its amoral characters, its sordid plot, its enigmatic anti-heroine, its complex (and masterful) formal design: all these aspects repel some as much as they attract others. Yet cabaret burlesque is as integral to the opera's make-up as high operatic tragedy. Paul Daniel and the Chandos engineers don't let us forget it. Piano, saxophone and vibraphone get the prominence they deserve...Richard Stokes has rendered Wedekind's demotic text aptly and brilliantly...For
Lulu in the raw, a
Rosenkavalier with no underwear, I'll take this."
- Peter Quantrill, THE GRAMOPHONE
Luluby Alban Berg Performer:
Jane Powell (Mezzo Soprano),
Graeme Danby (Bass),
Anna Burford (Mezzo Soprano),
Robert Hayward (Baritone),
John Graham-Hall (Bass),
Roger Begley (Bass),
Susan Perry (Mezzo Soprano),
Gwynne Howell (Bass),
Alan Oke (Tenor),
Robert Poulton (Bass),
Claire Mitcher (Soprano),
Stuart Kale (Tenor),
Paul Napier-Burrows (Mezzo Soprano),
Lisa Saffer (Soprano),
Moira Harris (Soprano),
Toby Stafford-Allen (Baritone)
English National Opera Orchestra,
Period: 20th Century Written: 1929-1935; Austria Language: English
Average Customer Review: ( 3 Customer Reviews )
A WinnerOctober 2, 2016By J. Tatnall (West Grove, PA)See All My Reviews"Lulu in English is spectacular for those of us whose German is not fluent and whose English is. That being said, if the performance were not top of the line, it would disappoint. There is no disappointment here. The cast is excellent, recently on stage with the work, and make this a natural, living drama. Bravi to Chandos, Peter Moores, and ENO all around!"Report Abuse
A superb LuluDecember 2, 2015By Donald Mintz (Trumansburg, NY)See All My Reviews"The ENO "Lulu" is a glorious performance and fine recording. The orchestra is fine and Paul Daniel emphasizes the lyric aspects of the music very effectively. (The acerbic ones scarcely need emphasizing.) The English translation is both literate and good for singinga splendid achievementand the opera is sufficiently literary to benefit from it. You may never have heard of Saffer (and I certainly hadn't) and you may say she is no Pederson (but who is?), but she is far more than adequate and the rest of the cast is fine."Report Abuse
Lulu speaks in tongues? No, it's Just EnglishFebruary 25, 2012By R. Smith (Portland, OR)See All My Reviews"Berg's Lulu has always been one of my favorite 20th century operas. Act three was completed years after Berg's death, by Berg expert Friedrich Cerha, and had it's premier in Paris in 1979. Boulez conducted and Teresa Stratas sang Lulu. After years of listening to the two act version with it's act three filler (a musical Venus without arms) the completed Lulu was a revelation and a thrill. This version, with every word turned on a dime, done in a "cheeky English" translation" by Richard Stokes, is a real page turner... The music, wonderful... it does seem our ears have adjusted, at last, to 12 tone music. Berg's music sounds so beautiful, and to me more accessible when mated with the English language... it's the text that so multi-layered and really communicates here. I think this version sits well along side the DG recording with Boulez, (his reading is on the cool side) and Teresa Stratas's Lulu is also in fine form. In my dreams, Berg's Lulu has always been on my "Opera in English" wish list. So hats off to Chandos for bringing it forward, to the English National Opera Orchestra's production, to singer's all, for their tight knit ensemble work and to Lisa Saffer's for her outstanding Lulu."Report Abuse