Marlis Petersen has been the preeminent Lulu for two decades. Since she announced that she would be retiring from the role after this Met production, this Bluray is an important document.
Visual artist William Kentridge wowed the Met a few years ago with a hyperactive production of Shostakovich’s The Nose, but I was wary of his take on Berg’s towering masterpiece – with a work of such dramatic intensity I’d happily swap all the Met’s technical gee-gaws for a few chairs and a spotlight. I suspect his arresting visual trickery might have been distracting in the theatre, but thankfully the filming strikes an ideal mean with cameras focusing our attention on the intense drama. That said: it is certainly a visual feast with constantly evolving projections referencing Expressionist and Weimar Republic visual cues with India ink, linocut and woodcut overlaying newsprint. The occasional Rorschach blot is a clever visual metaphor for both the moral ambiguity of Lulu (“I’ve never pretended to be anything but what men see in me”) and the opera’s formal arch structure.
The cast is excellent. Johan Reuter manages to draw sympathy as a younger than usual Dr Schön, his anger more menacing for that. Susan Graham is a noble Geschwitz, her loyalty touching rather than ignominious. Martin Winkler’s Acrobat is squirmingly sleazy and veteran Franz Grundheber’s Schigolch is a masterly portrayal of decrepit lechery. Paul Groves and Daniel Brenna sing well but are less impressive dramatically – Brenna underplays Alwa’s desperate obsession so he comes across as a bit of a booby.
But the night belonged to Petersen who is astonishing. Singing the big lyrical lines with a soaring beauty that many Straussian sopranos would envy, she negotiates the angular coloratura with glistening precision, all the while giving an acting performance of extraordinary veracity and physical projection. Petulant, spoilt, manipulative yet vulnerable, childish and naive, Petersen’s Lulu is a tough, streetwise fighter trying to get by in a horrid world. Her final tragic indignity as she tries to be alluring clad in an old jacket and shoes is shattering. Great stuff.