Met's new LULU coming to HD

Metropolitan Opera’s new Lulu to be telecast in HD

Don’t take this the wrong way: loving Lulu is not easy. But unfathomable as the title character, indeed the whole opera, may be, the Met’s new Lulu rewards.

No, Lulu herself is not at all easy: she’s like the child you realize you haven’t known very well, and now she’s moved out of your house for good and rarely calls. Simple, often she was disarmingly simple, like an open book, and sometimes she was inappropriate, perhaps innocently so, nothing serious. But in other ways, you become aware much later, she’s complex, mysterious, and ultimately fascinating.

Marliss Petersen as Lulu

Marliss Petersen as Lulu

Or maybe she’s just really messed up in the head, your fault of course, in desperate need of intensive psychotherapy or, as Woody Allen suggests in Manhattan Murder Mystery nothing that can’t be cured by “a little Prozac and a large polo mallet.”

But for now stick with complex, mysterious, and fascinating.

William Kentridge, who picked Shostakovich’s Nose for his Met debut a few seasons back, brings us a new Lulu with the aid of his team Co-Director Luc De Wit, Projection Designer Catherine Meyburgh, Set Designer Sabine Theunissen, Costume Designer Greta Goiris, and Lighting Designer Urs Schönebaum. It is a co-production with the Dutch National Opera and the English National Opera.

The experience of Kentridge’s (and Berg’s) Lulu is what psychologists call information overload or, in everyday parlance TMI. At three hours of music, Berg’s long score is possibly the most complex in the standard repertory (here assuming you’ll finally agree that Lulu belongs in the standard repertory). The text is not only dense sometimes, but often rapid fire: the subtitles cover about 75% of it. Adjusting for average reading speed, what choice do they have? At least the titles are projected onto the base of the set so you’re not ‘eyes off’ the stage action by looking down at the text screens in front of you.

Lulu Ignores Dr. Schon's plea for an end of the affair  

Lulu Ignores Dr. Schon's plea for an end of the affair 

The visual production is a dizzying bombardment of images, mostly complementing the stage drama. The faces of artists, composers, and others flit by: appropriately, when Alwa muses about the possibility of writing an opera about Lulu, it is the face of Alban Berg behind him. Mercifully, many of the images are repetitious for long stretches so that one can get a focus on the drama played out on stage. Visual bombardment may be less of an issue with camera close ups on the characters in the HD telecast.

Whereas many modern productions of Lulu give license to nudity and indecency, Kentridge tastefully gives us jiggling black brush images of our heroine and head shots on the blank unit set. Far more real flesh in Bartlett Sher’s Hoffmann, in other words. In the first half of Lulu I thought all of this projected business would trump the power of a film interlude bridging the halves of Act II, but, well done, Kentridge et al. have assembled striking and touching footage of actual humans.

Of course Lulu doesn’t get off the ground or more aptly out of bed without a real star in the title role. The marvelous Marlis Petersen brings it all together, guiding her character though her rise and fall, rags to riches to rags.

Petersen introduces a Lulu who is at the onset youthful, perky and coy, as if it comes as a surprise to her that Schwarz, the Painter, makes a move on her. Nor is she upset for long that Dr. Goll, her aged husband, has dropped dead in front of their eyes. But when she converses with Dr. Schön, her ‘guardian,’ or with his son Alwa she tightens into a more serious appetitive creature, yet still without the hard intent found in other productions. She is caring, comfortable and familiar with old Schigolch.

Johan Reuter, as Dr. Schön/Jack the Ripper, is effective in his desperation as Lulu’s net tightens around him. Daniel Brenna, in his Met debut, plays Alwa. He is a soft, sensitive, more creative young man, no match for the more calculating Lulu in the later acts. Paul Groves plays The Painter as another innocent victim. Alan Oke is The Prince as well as The Marquis.

Lulu and Schigolch get cozy

Lulu and Schigolch get cozy

Franz Grundheber creates a multifaceted Schigolch, a survivor from the gutter and possibly Lulu’s father or pimp (or both or neither). We’re never sure. Martin Winkler gives amusing color and animation to The Animal Trainer/Rodrigo, The Acrobat. Elizabeth DeShong excels as The Schoolboy.

The excellent Susan Graham makes Countess Geschwitz a more sympathetic character, less of a shadowy presence. She is certainly the most loyal of Lulu’s circle.

The direction of the players is crisp, never on pause. All good on stage in other words.

In many ways though, the co-stars of the evening are in the pit: Lothar Koenigs and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The aural fabric they weave is complex, engrossing and gripping. The total package, concept, production, the players, the score and its execution make this Lulu a triumph. Don’t miss it.

Performance date: November 5, 2015: the Metropolitan Opera premiere of the new production.

Photos: Ken Howard

Be advised: Lulu is performed here in three acts, each approximately one hour; the running time of the whole thing is 4 hours, 15 minutes, including two intermissions.

Lulu is a trip! Worth getting to know, more rewarding each time. Should be a part of our standard repertory. Enjoy!