Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

Kindred Spirits: Cecilia Bartoli and Rolando Villazón at the Concertgebouw

Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has been a regular favourite at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam since 1996. Her verastile concerts are always carefully constructed and delivered with irrepressible energy and artistic commitment.

Cav/Pag at Royal Opera

When Italian director Damiano Michieletto visited Covent Garden in June this year, he spiced Rossini’s Guillaume Tell with a graphic and, many felt, gratuitous rape scene that caused outrage and protest.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Marlis Petersen as Lulu [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera]
05 Jun 2010

Lulu, New York

Alban Berg died in 1935, but his music was generations ahead of his time – as one could not help but conclude during the recent revival of Lulu at the Met whenever the vibraphone played “doorbell” music, reminding us of the intrusion of cell phones into theaters.

Alban Berg: Lulu

Lulu: Marlis Petersen; Countess Geschwitz: Anne Sofie von Otter; Alwa: Gary Lehman; Dr. Schön/Jack the Ripper: James Morris; The Painter: Michael Schade; The Acrobat: Bradley Garvin; Schigolch: Gwynne Howell; Wardrobe Mistress/Schoolboy/Page: Ginger Costa-Jackson; The Prince/The Manservant/The Marquis: Graham Clark. Metropolitan Opera, conducted by Fabio Luisi. Performance of May 12.

Above: Marlis Petersen as Lulu

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera

 

This came home painfully five minutes before the performance ended, at the tense moment when the humiliated Lulu entreats her latest client, a black-bag-toting Englishman named Jack, into her bedroom. Somebody’s watch began to beep and kept on beeping. Happily, the music at this point is pretty loud, depicting what Jack is doing to Lulu just off stage, and Fabio Luisi let it out and drowned the beeping.

Nothing given at the Met this not-very-triumphant year (with the possible exceptions of The Nose, From the House of the Dead and Ariadne auf Naxos) has been of the across-the-board excellence, brilliantly sung, flawlessly acted, sublimely played, appropriately staged, of this Lulu. This fact brings to mind questions: Why does Lulu – seldom a crowd-pleaser (though the house was packed for the performance I attended, all enthusiastic) – merit this level of care from the Met while such more traditional fare as Aida or Turandot or Der Fliegende Holländer or Tosca are allowed to sink or swim, survive on lingering reputation, the staging haphazard, the singing mediocre? Is it because Lulu, being notoriously difficult, gets extra attention? Is it because the Met cannot find anyone capable of singing Aida or Radames or Turandot, but can easily come up with Lulu and Dr. Schön? It’s difficult to believe a Lulu of the caliber of Marlis Petersen is to be found on every street corner of the opera world, and if she has been located and lured to the Met, why has there been hardly a decent Aida in decades? The production is there, and Great Isis knows the audience is there, eager to hear it.

Otter_Lulu.gifAnne Sofie von Otter as Countess Geschwitz

Well, enough about Aida: this was a Lulu to remember. John Dexter’s handsome thirty-year-old Jugendstil production, with its Austro-Hungarian curlicues, its air of Klimt-Schiele decadence, is still handsome enough to satisfy. The direction was largely appropriate, though characters occasionally sing of going out of doors when in fact they are climbing the staircase to an upper floor. Lulu behaved as if on a different wavelength from that of the men – and women – obsessed with her, and that is as it should be: she is their idol, their destroyer, their plaything, their posession. No one ever sees her as human, including Lulu herself, and when she does show signs of humanity, it’s far too late.

In a cast giving exceptional performances across the board, even in such minuscule roles as the pimp who tries to blackmail Lulu into entering a brothel in Cairo in Act III – Graham Clark, sinister and funny, as he was also as Lulu’s butler in Act II – and the pageboy who obligingly changes clothes with Lulu, allowing her to escape the pimp – Ginger Costa-Jackson, who manages the trick of looking and moving like a boy uncomfortably in drag – the star of the evening, besides Marlis Petersen’s Lulu, was Fabio Luisi, recently announced as the Met’s visiting music director, who once again demonstrated that his control, his musicianship, his dramatic flair rank every him every way as worthy as James Levine. This was a taut, elegant, alive performance. There was time to notice such witty details as the concertato in the final scene of Act I – when the various men in Lulu’s life savage each other vocally in an atonal parody of a bel canto sextet, while Lulu, the only treble voice on stage, seems to pay no attention to them.

Petersen, the vocal star of the Met’s Hamlet this spring, wherein she sang the most old-fashioned of suicidal mad scenes in a luscious, gratifying manner, might almost be another singer when she sings Lulu. Mind you, the part could hardly be farther from bel canto Ophélie – it is all Sprechstimme, high-flying taunting, snarling, giggling, dreaming phrases pointed here and there on the scale, all of them produced with dramatic intent. Lulu, the child of nature, is no sensualist like Carmen or Musetta: she likes the physicality of sex. She does not develop a soul, a self, until she becomes desperate in Act III, having lost her money, her husbands, her position, almost her freedom. The transformation in Peteren’s vocal delivery in this act was matched by her movements; her entire figure seemed that of another woman, yearning no longer for sex but for death – the equal and opposite urge, as Freud might have suggested to Berg, his contemporary.

LULU_Act_I_0654.gifA scene from Act I with James Courtney as the Theater Manager, James Morris as Dr. Schön, Marlis Petersen in the title role, Gary Lehman as Alwa, Graham Clark as the Prince, and Ginger Costa-Jackson as Wardrobe Mistress

James Morris seemed on the ropes when he sang Claudius in Hamlet, his voice dry and tending towards wobble. As Dr. Schön, Lulu’s most possessive possessor, he sang with authority and irony. Each syllable was acted, and each sung note had a degree of menace and self-loathing. A very classy act. Anne-Sofie von Otter, whom I have found dull in more conventional parts, sang a most affecting Countess Geschwitz. Gary Lehman was stocky but sympathetic as Alwa Schön. Bradley Garvin brought particular menace not only to his movements but to each phrase of his vigorous baritone as the Acrobat. It was a cast without a flaw, a Lulu to remember forever, the new standard.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):