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Spectacular 'Lulu' opens at New York's Metropolitan Opera.

ySTANBUL (CyHAN)- "She was created to spread misfortune," bellowed the lion tamer in the Prologue to Alban Berg's 1935 opera "Lulu." He was describing, with urgent warnings to the listener, the nature of a woman who could "murder without leaving a trace." As the lion tamer introduced "the serpent Lulu," the scene musically and visually foreshadowed the ensuing psychological portrait of a woman who magnetized men into marrying her despite their declared loathing of her, and she then murdered each one.

On Nov. 5, the Metropolitan Opera in New York opened "Lulu" with the extraordinary soprano Marlis Petersen in the title role. She has sung "Lulu" worldwide for 18 years, so after the run of eight performances at the Met through Dec. 3, Ms. Peterson will retire the role from her career.

What also is making this production a big draw is artist William Kentridge as its director and designer. His oversized visual styling dominates every mise-en-scene, becoming the production's major identifying aspect almost to the point of iconography. Contrary to many design-driven opera productions where the musical values are overshadowed if not completely obliterated, this one, despite its gargantuan proportions, actually works hand-in-hand with the edgy, angular 12-tone score and magnifies the surreal quality of Lulu's twisted mind. The results are spectacular: a must-see in the company's season -- not only for its production design, but for the outstanding cast of excellent singers.

"Lulu" is Kentridge's second production for the Met, the first being his debut with Shostakovich's "The Nose" in 2010, which attracted vast attention from both the music and art worlds for its strikingly original design.

For "Lulu," Kentridge's black ink drawings in the manner of Max Beckmann's woodcuts, Egon Schiele's gritty portraits, and touches of Cubism were projected onto the walls of the stage settings of luxurious domiciles in Vienna and Paris, and a brothel in London. Embedded in the looming images are video sequences that make use of the Rorschach inkblot psychological test pictures -- the perfect symbol for analyzing the intriguing, complex story of Lulu's strange powers over men.

The score, which was left incomplete at the time of Berg's death in 1935, was completed by composer Friedrich Cerha in 1977 and the story is based on Frank Wedekind's plays "Earth Spirit" (1895) and "Pandora's Box" (1904), known for their scandalous critiques of bourgeois society and sexual hypocrisy. The 12-tone language, devised by Arnold SchE[micro]nberg, was in vogue in the 1930s in Vienna and Berg's use of that system in "Lulu" is one of the best examples of matching that language to the subject matter, including the orchestra, where instrumentally speaking, it's an absolute masterpiece of coloration, descriptive power and invention. Lothar Koenigs conducted the Met orchestra in a luminous performance that remains in the memory for its continuously compelling ability to illuminate every moment of each character's motivations and extracurricular actions.

Act I begins with The Painter (one of Lulu's lovers and husband-to-be), sung brilliantly by Paul Groves, who obsessively expresses his lust for her while Kentridge's projected images seem to portray his inner thoughts. Her husband Dr. SchE[micro]n, who had resurrected Lulu from a poor street waif to a famous cabaret dancer, was energetically inhabited by Johann Reuter, who also sang Jack the Ripper as the one who murdered Lulu in the final scene in the London brothel. Dr. SchE[micro]n's son Alwa, fervently sung by Daniel Brenna in his Met debut, had perhaps the most complicated relationship with Lulu. This was crystallized in a macabre moment in the finale of Act II where she, reclining provocatively on a sofa, asks him: "Isn't this where your father bled to death?"

Acts II and III see more and more lovers enter her life, particularly the Countess Geschwitz, richly sung by Susan Graham, who portrayed a combination of cleverness and confusion in her dealings with Lulu's mercurial behavior. All of these relationships came to a disastrous end through the manipulative powers of Lulu's vixen voraciousness. The lion tamer was lustrously delivered by Martin Winkler, who reappeared in Act III as an Acrobat in Lulu's stable of men.

Lulu, as executed so superbly by Petersen, was a vocal tour-de-force, as was her portrayal a scenery-chewing physical spectacle: hopping from one table-top to another, pacing like a caged animal and jumping on mattresses like a child. Her melodic phrases ranged from wistful contemplation to flights of nervous energy with stratospheric high notes, notably on the word "deceive" where her roulettes became hyperactive.

Kentridge, who was also a featured artist in the recent ystanbul Biennial (his silent film "O Sentimental Machine" was shown at the Hotel Splendid Palace on BE-yE-kada), used comic-strip style costumes (designed by Greta Goiris) on Lulu to surrealize her almost otherworldly core. While that worked in certain scenes like the artist's studio as she posed, at other times it simply contributed to the feeling of visual congestion where all the elements competed with each other at a fast pace for the viewer's attention. The music alone provided enough of a sensory challenge to comprehend from moment to moment.

While we can devote time to analyzing a character like Lulu, another side of this story is the curious psychology of "men as fools." Each man in her life lost all logical thinking and plunged into the abyss of obsessive love/lust, without any ability to pull himself out. By the end of the lurid story -- and like absolute political powers that absolutely corrupt -- sexual politics wields a volatile and venomous snake bite that destroys. "Der Tanz ist aus" is the sentence that flashes across the stage set at the end: "The dance is over."


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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Date:Nov 10, 2015
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