Berg Lulu

Author: 
Michael Oliver
Berg Lulu – Boulez

Berg Lulu – Boulez

  • Lulu

Lulu became a quite different opera on that night in February 1979 when we were at last permitted to hear the Third Act. Lulu herself, until then often seen as a brilliant but shallow image, an amoral coloratura force of nature, took on tragic depth in her squalid decline. The role that had ended with her casually shocking Act 2 curtainline, in bored response to Alwa's ardour (''Isn't this the sofa your father bled to death on?'') now concluded with the dreadful pathos of her own death, begging her muderer Jack the Ripper for a little affection—paying him for love, indeed, as others had once paid her, the point brutally underlined by the first scene of this 'new' act, with all its talk of a stockmarket crash in Jungfrau-Aktien, virgin shares. Her 'victim' Dr Schon, likewise, once just the biggest fish in a bowl of piranhas, acquired a malign, mythic grandeur by his posthumous 'rebirth' as Jack; Lulu's immediate reaction to Schon's death (''The only one I ever loved'') was revealed not as hysterical play-acting but as simple truth.
So the Paris production, of which this set is a record, was the opera's true premiere. Singers who 'knew' these roles already in the truncated two-act version had to do much more than learn the music of another act. That they succeeded is one triumph of this performance (Stratas conveys the allure and the scintillation of Lulu throughout, but also her self-knowledge, and the final scene is a real culmination, as it is for Mazura, who adds a further cubit to his stature in their frightening but soberly beautiful confrontation); that so much went right in this premiere production is another: there is nothing in the least provisional about the interpretation and the relationships between the characters are vibrantly alive. Still more on CD than on LP (and how good to hear each act uninterrupted) one can appreciate Boulez's marvellous marshalling and ranking of detail: nothing is approximate, nothing obscured. The closeness of the voices in the recorded perspective is rather more obvious on CD (as is the 'neutral' acoustic of the espace de projection at IRCAM, where the recording was made) but they are never allowed to upstage the instrumental lines. Boulez's absolute security may lead him to hurry a little at times, and his lack of interest in the sheer voluptuousness that is part of Berg's language is disappointing, but there is different sort of sensuousness to his immaculate precision which is in its own way almost a compensation.
The two principals (now we know that Schon/Jack ranks as co-principal with Lulu herself) could hardly be bettered; despite a couple of sour high notes, Minton is an ideally sympathetic Geschwitz, most moving in her Liebestod; Schwarz, Tear and Pampuch make distinguished contributions to the success of the performance as a whole. Blankenheim and Nienstedt project rather less character, and we are still waiting for the ideal Alwa: Riegel sings drily and a touch strenuously, but with intelligence and accuracy; he cannot be blamed for not sounding like Julius Patzak or Richard Tauber in their prime. This is the essential Lulu, and its successors (when they arrive, as they must) will find it hard to equal, let alone surpass.'

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