London Coliseum, 9 November 2016
Performances of Lulu are few and far between despite its importance and so it is good that ENO have snapped up a provocative and engaging new production by William Kentridge, even if it is only on for five evenings.
Kentridge is an artist and this is the basis of his approach. The stage looks like the set for a German expressionist film of the nineteen-twenties. Onto this he projects a stream of images taken from his own drawings/paintings which evolve and change in response to the score. It is highly effective, if at times a little overwhelming, but nonetheless does give an insight into the work which is new and provocative without ever doing damage to the music.
Under Mark Wigglesworth’s virile handling the orchestra is in superb form and the glorious late romanticism of Berg’s score shines through. The interludes, which are effectively staged throughout, never sink into purple passages, and part of this is due to the filmic nature of the whole approach, so that Berg’s request for film never stands out as an oddity against the rest of the staging. Very much a step in the right direction for the use of video in opera.
To this we can add a strong cast. Sarah Connolly’s Geschwitz and James Morris’ Dr Schon are superb and Nicky Spence as Alwa is only let down by costume and make-up which regularly reduce him to Billy Bunter. The many smaller parts are well rounded, though I was confused by the lady on the piano and the Igor-like man servant.
Brenda Rae sings the title role with ease, throwing off the high lying tessitura with a carelessness apt to the part. The difficulty lies in her knowingness where the text is concerned. She seems to want to inflict pain on the men who surround her where the opera as a whole suggests she is as much a victim as they are. There is an underlying innocence to Lulu. In the first act her repeated I don’t know – mirroring Parsifal – should be genuine, and the confession of murder surely needs a sense of naivety. She may be destructive but it is not willed by her so much as the society which has created her. However, the evening is a great success, and given the smaller number of productions this season, one that will surely be well remembered.