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6.8.10

Notes from the 2010 Salzburg Festival ( 8 )



Alban Berg • Lulu


Lulu, at last. After a string of eight concerts where I had to cherry pick the goodies, the last night of my first ‘block’ at the Salzburg Festival provided unadulterated joy, courtesy Alban Berg, his Lulu, the cast of singing actors, and conductor Marc Albrecht.

Lulu was staged in the Felsenreitschule by director Vera Nemirova and painter Daniel Richter. Originally intended as a project for festival director Jürgen Flimm together with Nicolaus Harnoncourt, but the latter dropped out for health reasons, and the former followed suit and entrusted the production to Nemirova/Richter, who expected to stage, as planned, the two-act version of Lulu. When Marc Albrecht was won as the conductor, he insisted on performing the complete opera, arguing persuasively that not performing the third act (claims of the third act being just a ‘performing version’ salvaged by Friedrich Cerha are bogus when about 99.9% are pure and finalized Berg) would be like hacking a limb off Lulu (metaphorically, in that case) and ruining the wonderful, painstakingly planned-out symmetry. A version that drops the Paris scene from the third act, as done recently and convincingly in Basel by Calixto Bieito, was out of the question thanks to a veto from the publisher.


available at Amazon
A.Berg, Lulu (3 Act),
M.Albrecht / WPh
P.Petibon, P.Breslik, C.Burggraaf, M.Volle et al.
V.Nemirova (director)
Unitel DVD



available at Amazon
A.Berg, Lulu (3 Act),
M.Albrecht / WPh
P.Petibon, P.Breslik, C.Burggraaf, M.Volle et al.
V.Nemirova (director)
Unitel Blu-ray

So Nemirova/Richter had to come up with another act on short notice, which might have been liberating as much as it was a challenge, because that last act is produced with a certain devil-may-care attitude, using the whole Felsenreitschule as their stage for the Paris scene, crisscrossing between the audience, teasing them, interacting with faux-audience members and real ushers. Nine times out of ten (I’m being kind here), using the auditorium as an extension of the stage goes horribly wrong and becomes embarrassing. It was well overdone here, too, but firstly this house is a fitting location for a scene to play among the decadent and rich , bedecked with jewels and concerned about their investments in the stock market. And secondly it didn’t feel quite as put on as it would have with lesser actors or less confidently played out.

That’s in a nutshell the story of this production: Not without offering points of criticism, but never getting in the way of the cast of assembled stage animals (especially Paticia Petibon, Michael Volle, Franz Grundheber, Andreas Conrad, Thomas Johannes Mayer, Pavol Breslik, Cora Burggraaf). Better yet, the direction actively helped them to shape their characters most vividly.

There wasn’t a point where I really cared about the concealment of the Felsenreitschule’s natural stage by cloaking it in black mull drapes and then hiding it behind huge, Richter-painted curtains. (In the press conference Richter was refreshingly candid about absolutely hating the performance space, but didn’t explain why then he still took the job.) Nor did I have time to mind the girlish naughty schoolyard humor that didn’t leave a sexual cliché unturned in the first act. Using little more than a giant portrait of Lulu for that act certainly worked well, though and transforming the abstract halved pyramid of the second act into a dingy hut for act three by tipping it over was clever enough, too.

With Petibon’s Lulu—her lightly cooing soprano perhaps not the ideal voice, but excelling in a dramatic, moving depiction of Lulu as part manipulating vixen, part childlike innocence—and the smashingly intense Volle’s Dr.Schön/Jack the Ripper at hand, Nemirova succeeded in presenting the opera as being about a couple, rather than Lulu +1 +1 +1 +1. If Tanja Ariane Baumgartner and Thomas Piffka as the Countess Geschwitz and Alwa looked a little pale amid this ensemble, it’s not to suggest that they were particularly lacking, but that the theatrical standard around them was so unusually high. Both, in any case, sang exceedingly well.

The orchestra, including a real jazz combo for the off-stage music in act one (with horn violins acquired specifically for this production), played like inspired under Albrecht, who was visibly in his element, having a great time eliciting the romance, drama, searing lyricism, the beauty, the logic, the literalisms, the evocations of the complex score that makes tone rows sound like pure Mahler, especially in the ever recurrent coda theme. It was a heartwarming promise from Salzburg for when I return later this month.



All pictures courtesy Salzburger Festspiele, © Monika Rittershaus














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