Who is Lulu? What do we know about her? Does she really exist or is she nothing more than a fantasy?
Wiedekind als Dr.Schön en zijn vrouw Tilly als Lulu in’Der Erdgeist’ ©Bildarchiv EFWFrank
A portrait of her is painted in the first act, which then runs like a thread through the whole opera, much like the portrait of Dorian Gray. Whatever happens to Lulu, her portrait remains unchanged.
Alban Berg was quite obsessed with her character, taken from Wedekind’s plays Der Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora.
This may also have had to do with his personal life. She might be the personification of Czech Hanna Fuchs, Berg’s last great love. But there are also music psychologists who want to see Berg himself in Lulu
Berg did not finish his opera: when he died in 1935, the third act consisted only of sketches.
It was the Austrian composer Friedrich Cerha who orchestrated 1979’s unfinished third act; until then, only the first two acts were being performed.
You simply cannot live without the very first recording of the complete opera with the third act, as it was finalized by Cerha. Deutsche Grammophon made a studio recording in 1979 immediately after the Paris premiere (DG 4154892).
All fantastic Lulu’s notwithstanding, no one can match Teresa Stratas. Even without the textbook, you will not only clearly hear but also really understand every word. Robert Tear is a delightfully naive painter and Franz Mazura an unrivalled Dr Schön. Kenneth Riegel’s Alwa is a matter of taste, but his empathy is just about perfect.
Pierre Boulez’s seemingly cool and analytical approach makes the drama sizzle even more.
You can also watch the complete recording with Stratas on YouTube:
The recording made by EMI in 1968 (91233028) should really not be missing from any collection. Anneliese Rothenberger is a very light, bouncy Lulu, truly an innocent girl.
Forget about Gerhard Unger (Alwa), but Toni Blankenheim’s surprisingly light and sarcastic Dr Schön (Schigolch with Boulez) is really irrisistable.
What makes the recording extra desirable is Benno Kusche in the small role of Tierbändiger. The recording itself also sounds surprisingly good.
Ilona Steingruber’s name does not ring a bell these days, but in her time she was a celebrated soprano, whose repertoire included Mahler, Korngold, Strauss and Alban Berg.
On the 1949 recording directed by Herbert Häfner (including Archipel Desert Island Collection ARPCD 0540), Steingrubber sings a very sensual Lulu: erotic and exciting in her singing and remarkably childlike in the dialogues.
Otto Wiener is a very authoritarian Dr Schön and Waldemar Kmentt a not very idiomatic but very present Maler. The confrontation between the two, ‘Du hast eine halbe Million geheiratet’, is therefore particularly exciting.
With her movie-star looks and angelic voice, Evelyn Lear has been referred to in the press as ‘Elisabeth Taylor meets Elisabeth Schwarzkof’. Personally, I find the American soprano, very popular in the 1960s to 1980s, much more interesting than her German colleague.
Lear was one of the greatest and best advocates of modern music. On 9 June 1962, she sang the role of Lulu in the first Austrian production of the work, at the newly reopened Theater an der Wien.
I can imagine that the posh premiere audience may have been a bit surprised to see a prima donna dressed only in a tight-fitting corset and fishnet stockings, but if so, nobody showed it.
It was directed by the then very young Otto Schenk, who followed the libretto closely. That Paul Schöffler (Dr Schön ) reminded me of Professor Unrath from Der blaue Engel is, of course, no coincidence. Nor is his resemblance to Freud.
The last scene, beginning with Geschwitz’s plea followed by images of Jack the Ripper, could just as well have been taken from one of the best Hitchcock films. Especially since Gisela Lintz, who sings the role of the Countess, looks a lot like one of the director’s beloved actresses.
Watching Karl Böhm conducting is also extremely exciting. I have never seen him gesticulating so violently. An absolute must (Arthaus Musik 101 687).
I have never understood why Julia Migenes wasn’t allowed to sing ‘real’ operas more often. She was a big star on Broadway and she triumphed in several musical films, but to my knowledge, apart from Lulu, she has performed very few other opera roles on the stage. Both her appearance and acting are so formidable that one can readily forgive her for not always singing cleanly.
Franz Mazura is a phenomenal Dr Schön. In the scene where he writes the farewell letter to his fiancée, you can almost smell his sweat. What a performanc
As Geschwitz, the now older but still gorgeous Evelyn Lear is convincing in every way. John Dexter’s very fine production was recorded at the Metropolitan Opera in 1980 (Sony 88697910099).
The complete recording can be viewed here:
This totally unadorned production by Christof Loy was recorded at London’s Royal Opera House in June 2009. Loy has stripped the opera completely and reduced it to its pure essence, something I find very fascinating.
His minimalist approach allows all attention to be paid to the characters, their motivations and their development. Whatever you think of the direction: musically it is spot on. Antonio Pappano really works wonders with the orchestra; you will rarely hear this music so transparent and at the same time so emotionally charged.
Klaus Florian Vogt cannot really convince me as Alwa, but Jennifer Larmore is an exceptionally attractive Geschwitz. And Agneta Eichenholz (with her big eyes pretty much the reincarnation of Audrey Hepburn) is a beautiful Lulu in every way. Michael Volle is for me, after Franz Mazura, the best Dr Schön (Opus Arte OA 1034 D).
Below is an excerpt from the production:
I am not a fan of Patrizia Petibon: I find her posturing is rather irritating. Her voice is also on the small side, so she often has to force it. Not conducive to the very high and difficult notes Berg has his lead singer sing. I also find her physically ill-suited for the role. She is not a ‘Lolita’, but an adult whore dressed like a little girl with ditto behaviour.
I also have trouble with Geschwitz (Tanja Ariane Paumfartner, an unknown to me), but the rest of the singers are more than excellent, with the unsurpassed Michael Volle as the inimitably good Dr Schön.
Thomas Piffka is an outstanding Alwa, unmistakably a composer who is constantly working on his opera. Pavol Breslik is a horny Maler, Grundhebber a fantastic Schigolch and Cora Burggraaf a sparkling Gymnasian.
Vera Nemirova’s production (Salzburg 2010) is colourful and highly expressionistic. Marc Albrecht is a perfect conductor for the work: under his direction, the Vienna orchestra shows its very best side (Euroarts 2072564).
Below the trailer:
Whoever came up with the unholy idea of having an unknown and unremarkable composer (have you ever heard of David Robert Coleman?) recompose Lulu for this production in Berlin in 2012, I don’t know, but I am not at all grateful.
Only the third act was adapted, because they dared not touch the real Berg. At least… the prologue has been scrapped, which totally ruins the opera. In its place we get a man, lying down quoting Kierkegaard: “Alles Erlebte tauche ich hinab.” Well well…??
Andrea Breth, by now on my no-no list of directors shows her worst side here. The production is deadly dull. Neither the ethereally singing Mojca Erdmann, nor the scorching Deborah Polaski, nor Michael Volle or Thomas Piffka can undo this cruel murder of a masterpiece (DG 0734934).