Théâtre de la Monnaie
Lulu at La Monnaie, with Hannigan and Petrinsky
© Bernd Uhlig 2013
It was an exciting inevitability that Alban Berg's Lulu and avant-garde director Krzysztof Warlikowski would cross paths, and the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels can be proud to have secured this stimulating premiere, conducted by Paul Daniel.
The director and his designer, Malgorzata Szczęśniak, have created an individual and instantly recognizable style, and Lulu was no exception. The scene was dominated by two escalators and glimmering, magically lit plastic geometry, complemented by a shimmering curtain that provided the backdrop for the high heels and lip gloss of Hollywood Technicolor misfits. (One must not forget the inevitable functional wash basins, which always find a place in the couple's work.)
The insistent video images of various cinematic femmes fatales were here a superfluous addition to this intelligent reading of Berg's masterpiece. The evening began with the reciting in English of the myth of Lilith, the supposed first wife of Adam, who refused to submit to his dominance and the divine law. The sexually manipulative Lulu entered teetering on her ballet pointe shoes, emphasizing the character's girlish dream of being a ballerina; her wounded artistic ambition lay at the heart of Lulu's destructive nature, underlined by a company of young ballet dancers whose innocence and youth played against the adult world of sexual tension and corruption. The troubled relationship that the composer had with his own unrecognized daughter was the dramaturgical inspiration here. Act I ended with a silent dance in which Lulu's classical ballet language degenerated into frenzied flailing before she collapsed to the ground. This was just one of many powerful creations of dancer Claude Bardouil and choreographer Rosalba Torres Guerrero. The exaggerated abstraction of Warlikowski's work will always provoke some, but the pathetic death of this fluttering wounded bird was a moment of raw theatrical power.
Rarely has Lulu's music been sung with the precision and beauty offered by soprano Barbara Hannigan on October 21: her wraithlike figure and dramatic intensity make her a worthy successor to the great interpreters of the role. Equally fine was baritone Dietrich Henschel as Dr. Schön and a terrifying Jack the Ripper; he deployed masterful manipulation of the text and a voice sounding in better shape than it has for some time. He looked younger and more sexually vital than his son Alwa, a moving Charles Workman, whose curious vocal production coped manfully with the high-flying tenor moments.
The character of Gräfin Geschwitz was freed from its Otto Dix cliché of lesbian caricature by the performance of Natascha Petrinsky, who was a young, glamorous figure, aware of her own powers of seduction. Her final heartbreaking scene, set against the snow of London, was a powerful expression of lost love sung with soaring mezzo tone. Also in top form was tenor Tom Randle as an obsessive, hard-drinking Painter, eager to explore bondage fetish images in his photographs of Lulu. He was just one of an outstanding cast that included excellent performances from baritones Pavlo Hunka, as a bumbling, morally enigmatic Schigolch, and Ivan Ludlow, projecting firmly as the Athlete.
Daniel drew wonderful playing from the Brussels orchestra. His keen eye for the formal shaping of the music did not neglect the rich lyricism of Act III, performed in Friedrich Cerha's rich orchestration rather than Eberhard Kloke's more spectral new version.
STEPHEN J. MUDGE
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