Lulu at Covent Garden

But even Loos might have thought
Christof Loy’s Covent Garden production of Berg’s Lulu a
bit under-ornamented: there is no stage set except a blank greenish screen,
divided into panels, sometimes Rothko-ized by white floorlights. Maybe
you’ve seen the television weatherman when the chroma-key fails, and
instead of standing in front of a map inflected with numbers and diagrams,
he’s just standing in front of a green or blue screen: that’s the
basic visual effect of this production. The props—a chair, a razor, a
gun—are so scanty that a Beckett play seems a Zeffirellian extravaganza
by comparison.

Instead of going backstage, the characters may simply turn their backs to
the screen; in moments of unusual passion, they may simple plant themselves
four-square and face the audience, as if they were dummies in a vitrine. A
certain aesthetic of puppet theatre can be found throughout, particularly in
the case of Agneta Eichenholz, the Lulu, who often makes a sudden crooked
smile, as if a string tugged up one side of her face, and who sometimes makes
spineless disjointed gestures; when she (visibly, behind the screen) collapses
in a faint in act 1, scene 3, you feel that her limb-strings were suddenly cut.
She’s not a marionette in the Kleistian sense, a creature of superhuman
inanimate grace; instead she’s a puppet in the Chucky sense, slightly
ghastly even when not actually killing anybody. Nothing she does has even the
faintest tinge of the erotic, even when she’s massaging Schigolch’s
groin in act 3, scene 1; instead the Fatal Attraction she exerts on everyone
seems an absurd plot contrivance, like the love potion in Tristan. At
certain moments her behavior is more animal-like than puppet-like, as when she
licks the blood off Dr. Schˆn’s fingers and cheeks; but she does even
this icky thing in an almost completely flat, affectless manner.

Sometimes she seems to convert the other characters into puppets as well.
The Medizinalrat first dies, then picks himself up and walks offstage,
scattering banknotes in his wake; reincarnated for the second time as
Lulu’s first client in act 3, scene 2, he repeats the money-gesture, with
perfectly mechanical aplomb. Then the Painter appears as Lulu’s second
client, the African Prince, his throat still cut and bleeding. In act 1, scene
3, Lulu daubs Dr. Schˆn’s face with heavy white makeup and lipstick, a
gesture of triumph as she compels him to write the letter breaking up with his
fiancÈe; and all throughout act 2 he will continue to wear the clown face, as
if permanently demoted from the human race.

The singing and conducting are of the utmost magnificence: Eichenholz
remains lyrical, controlled, unshrill, even during her cruelly high Lied;
Michael Volle’s Dr. Schˆn is strong and secure, eloquently
anguished—an Amfortas to the Parsifal of Klaus Florian Vogt, a
surprisingly delicate, deft, cantabile Alwa. All of the minor
characters deserve praise, but I will mention only the blustering bravura of
Peter Rose’s Athlete (and Animal Trainer), and the blasÈ insinuation of
Philip Langridge’s Marquis—Langridge is the only tenor I ever saw
who could make Don Ottavio a figure so dangerous that Don Giovanni seemed to
have something to worry about, and that skill at menace serves him well in this

Daniel Albright


image_description=Alban Berg: Lulu (with Act III completed by Friedrich Cerha)
product_title=Alban Berg: Lulu (with Act III completed by Friedrich Cerha)
product_by=Lulu:Agneta Eichenholz; Dr. Schˆn / Jack the Ripper: Michael Volle; Alwa: Klaus Florian Vogt; Countess Geschwitz: Jennifer Larmore; Schigolch: Gwynne Howell; Animal Trainer / Athlete: Peter Rose; Prince / Manservant / Marquis: Philip Langridge; Dresser / Schoolboy / Groom: Heather Shipp; Painter / Policeman / Negro: Will Hartmann; Banker / Professor: Jeremy White. Royal Opera House Orchestra. Antonio Pappano, conductor. Christof Loy, stage director. Herbert Murauer, designs. Eva-Mareike Uhlig, costume co-designer. Reinhard Traub, lighting designer. Thomas Wilhelm, movement director. Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, June 2009.
product_id= Opus Arte OABD7070D [Blu-Ray]