The production was designed by Pierre André Weitz, with stage direction by Olivier Py, and its post-modern approach supports Berg’s score through its vivid settings and facile staging. Unlike the conventional staging of Lulu, as found in another recent DVD which preserves the 1977 Metropolitan Opera premiere of the opera (filmed in 1980), this Barcelona staging plays upon the surrealistic elements of the work to powerful effect. With excellent sound and intense visuals, this recent DG release is a compelling presentation of Lulu.
The casting is impressive, with Lulu played by Patricia Petibon, and Alwa by Paul Groves. Both singers are fully engaged in their characters both dramatically and vocally. Petibon brings out the vulnerability of Lulu along with her ruthlessness. As the narrative takes the Lulu into increasingly complex situations, Petibon expresses her character’s desperation in her acting and vocal tone, with a sense of timing that serves the music and the dram. Yet at the end, when Lulu becomes a prostitute in London, Petibon brings a sense of detachment to the climax, which allows the action to focus on the actions of Ashley Holland as Jack the Ripper and reactions of Julia Juon as Countess Geschwitz. Petibon’s subtlety allows the staging to emphasize the tragedy, and also brings out the lyrical emphases in various numbers, as with Lulu’s Lied (“Wenn sich die Menschen” in the first scene of act two.
As Alwa Paul Groves is appealing for performative reasons. The role is well within Groves’ abilities, which receives fine voice in this video. His delivery of the passage “Über die ließe sich freilich eine interessante Oper schreiben” is memorable for the way it works well in the scene yet seems like commentary on the work itself. His clear enunciation of the text and sense of line supports both the part of Alwa and also his strangely intense relationship with Lulu.
Ashley Holland brings a similar command to the dual role of Dr. Schön and Jack the Ripper, a quality which allows him to build the dramatic and musical tension in the first part of the opera and then, at the end, to bring it to its tragic ending. Holland’s Dr. Schön interacts well with Petibon’s Lulu, as well as the other characters. The complex relationship between Dr. Schön as father and Alwa as his son emerges with appropriate edginess in this production. At the same time the final scene hinges on Holland’s intensity as Jack the Ripper.
With the role of Countess Geschwitz, Julia Juon creates a sympathetic persona as Lulu’s erstwhile lover and dramatic Doppelgänger. Introduced only in the second act, it is important for anyone taking on the role of Geschwitz to create a solid impression, and Juon does so from the start. Her obsession with Lulu emerges without overstatement, with her final lines haunting. Juon’s performance stands well with Petibon’s, as the two women create strong impressions throughout the performance.
Supporting all of this is the fine leadership of Michael Boder, who brings a fine sense of timing and balance to excellent sound of the DVD. Boder’s interpretation is strong, as it reflects his sense of interactions of instrumental and vocal music in this complex score. The orchestral outbursts have their place in the drama, and are nicely integrated into the polished whole of the production.
Yet throughout the performance, the staging stands out for the bold approach to this landmark twentieth-century opera. The carefully considered and and well-thought details make support work. While this results in some provocative images, the results does not seem gratuitous Labeled with a parental advisory for adult content, this DVD makes a provocative staging available to a wide audience. The sensuality of the work emerges in overt elements, like the suggestion of sexual intimacy and the alluring sense of bodies in depicting the lust that is part of the libretto. As strong as this aspect of the production may be, it is never out of place or sensationalist. Rather, this staging makes use of those elements to bring out the narrative elements in ways that sometimes fall short in other productions. At the same time the vivid use of animal images in the prologue and first act make Wedekind’s text come to life memorably. In addition Brechtian elements emerge in the placards with slogans in various languages that punctuate some of the scenes. “Meine Seele” or “I hate sex” seen to be non-sequiturs on their own, but contribute to the entire experience when viewed within the mise-en-scène of this Lulu. As these and other elements work together well in this production, they bring a powerful focus on the dramatic aspects of Berg’s opera in a performance that includes some of the finest interpreters of the work in the first decade of the twenty-first century. A modern conception of the opera, this Lulu is simultaneously accessible for its solid conception of this seminal twentieth-century opera.