Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lulu

Lulu:  Christine Schaefer (soprano)
Alwa, Dr. Schön’s Son, a composer:  David Kuebler (tenor)
Dr. Schön / Jack the Ripper:  Wolfgang Schone (baritone)


This is my third Lulu, the opera by Berg.

The first was in 1965 in two acts and starred Evelyn Lear. She was a voracious tiger who ate men for lunch, and the ovation for her performance was as nothing I have ever seen--not applause but a sustained roar. I was away in 1971 when Anja Silja played her.

The second in 1989, San Francisco's first since the completion of the three act score in 1979, starred Ann Panagulias, a dark young woman barely out of Merola. Ann was passive in the extreme, and the whole action just washed over her. Ann was cast for her looks, but projected no emotions at all. It is curious to notice that in this production Evelyn Lear played the Countess.

My third is this DVD starring Christine Schaefer from Glyndebourne. She is somewhere between these extremes.

There are women who attract others like a magnet. We have all known one of them at one time or another. Lulu is such a woman. What is the secret? Pheromones? Body language? Looks?

That is the question: is Lulu doing it on purpose, or is she merely the object of the desires of others? Is she arranging signals for others to respond to? Or is she just following the wishes of others? Is she a leader or merely a follower? Men of all social classes swarm around her. Dr. Schoen's son Alwa, well played here by David Kuebler, says she might be a cunning whore, and she says she wishes she were. Is it to her credit that she constantly reminds him that she poisoned his mother and shot his father, or is this part of her attraction?

Christine hasn't the strength of voice to project the voraciousness of Evelyn Lear. Hers is a sweet lyric soprano, and her Lulu is a sweet woman who enjoys being loved. She accepts all gifts as though they were her due, including the Countess' gift of her own health, and does not question the source. Dr. Schoen whom she kills is the only one she loves in return. This Lulu is a woman who is enjoying her outfits, which change frequently. Alwa calls her "little Lulu" and Christine is small enough to fit this. Her natural hair color darkens as the opera goes along. (Behind the scenes there will be a lot of frantic dying and drying.)

In a slut plot, one of the mainstays of opera, the slut must get what she deserves. Carmen is stabbed. Semele is burned alive. Violetta dies of consumption. Lulu is killed by Jack the Ripper.

There are basically four textures: orchestra alone (including the accompaniment for the film in act ii), unaccompanied speaking, melodrama (speech with orchestra--I don't think it can be considered Sprechstimme) and singing with orchestra. The artists move smoothly from one texture to another. Christine's singing is quite pretty, but I'm not sure I can say that for the others.

In this production the music is made to seem not difficult, a spectacular achievement. The music is merely there like background music for a movie (which some of the time it is.) The transition from talking to singing is transparent and natural. It is by far the best of my three. For this movie would we have chosen this music? Definitely.

The same man, Wolfgang Schone here, must sing both Dr. Schoen and Jack the Ripper because of the dialog at the end. He is only her third trick, but she wants him to spend the night with her because she likes him. He reminds her of the only man she ever loved. Jack kills the Countess, too, who gets to declare her love for Lulu as she dies. The Countess is beautifully played by Kathryn Harries.

This is the first time I have been swept up in the drama. It is played for reality rather than intensity. I think you could see a more melodramatic Lulu, a more evil Lulu, but hardly a more sympathetic one. It is pathetic to see that three of her lovers--Alwa, the Countess and Schigolch, the father that isn't a father--make it all the way with her to complete degradation at the end.

Lulu is the ultimate slut plot, and I am not the first to wish to see Anna Netrebko sing it. Her portrayal would be closer to Evelyn Lear's, I think. Don't get me wrong--Christine is pretty fabulous.

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