Monday, May 17, 2010

A Lulu of a "Lulu"

Composed by Alban Berg
Conducted by Fabio Luisi
Directed by John Dexter
Starring Marlis Petersen, Anne Sofie von Otter, Gary Lehman, Michael Schade, Bradley Garvin, James Morris

Performances on May 8, 12, 15, 2010
Metropolitan Opera

She made a memorable Met debut in an otherwise middling Hamlet as Ophelia, but it’s in the title role of Alban Berg’s Lulu that German soprano Marlis Petersen shows that she belongs in opera’s big leagues, a true superstar in the making.

Berg's grim but glorious-sounding 12-tone opera is based on Frank Wedekind’s plays about an amoral woman whose wiles entice men (and women) to their deaths, only to meet her demise at the hands of Jack the Ripper in Victorian London. Done infrequently at the Met, Lulu is one of the few “must-see” 20th century operas to be regularly performed, so seeing John Dexter’s elegant 30-year-old production is always a treat. Fabio Luisi’s supple conducting coaxes all of the varied musicality out of Berg’s rugged score, reaching its apogee in the brilliantly orchestrated interludes that nod toward the composer’s gorgeous Violin Concerto.

Although stars appear in pivotal supporting roles (Anne Sofie von Otter as Princess Geschwitz, James Morris as both Dr. Schön and, in the final scene, Lulu’s killer), it’s Petersen, traversing Berg’s sadistically difficult vocal writing with apparent ease, who makes this a lulu of a Lulu. A tall, handsome woman whose great legs become a pivotal point of this production—of course our Lulu must be irresistible!—Petersen also has impeccable singing and acting chops, letting the audience follow this atonal anti-heroine to the depths of hell in a tragically inevitable climax to Berg’s musically and dramatically exhilarating four-hour journey. I’m sure most Lulu lovers would gladly follow Petersen again and again.
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