Lulu

Berg’s Lulu is a fascinating piece. The plot is unremittingly bleak including (by implication) child abuse, murder, cholera and prostitution culminating in Lulu’s death at the hands of Jack the Ripper. The music is dense and fascinating. Most of it is written using twelve tone technique with a different tone row for each character. It’s not an easy listen. I watched it on a DVD of a 1996 Glyndebourne production directed by Graham Vick, with Andrew Davis conducting and Christine Schafer, then 30, in the title role.

The set for the entire production is a series of contrarotating circles of floor set around a hole in the stage by which characters can enter and exit. Behind this is a high curving wall with a staircase up it and various doors. This allows Vick to use space to explore the relationships between the characters in some interesting ways.

At the heart of this production is Schafer(*) she has the ideal looks and voice for the part. There are only a handful of singers in the world who can throw off the some of the fiendishly high coloratura work and wear the outfits she wears in this piece. The rest of the cast is stellar and the orchestral playing and conducting is about as lyrical as Berg ever could be. It all adds up to a musically and dramatically satisfying package.

Video direction (by Humphrey Burton) is unfussy and undistracting. The DVD is 4:3 and the only audio option is Dolby Digital 2.0.

Here’s the scene with Lulu and Jack the Ripper as a sampler.

*The more I see of Schafer the more impressed I am. She sings a lot of difficult modern music but she also brings real character to a wide range of traditional lyric soprano roles. I’ve seen her as Sophie in Rosenkavalier, as Gretel in Hansel and Gretel and as Cherubino in Il Nozze di Figaro. She really inhabits the characters she plays. As she does in Lulu.

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