Saturday 9 February 2013

Alban Berg's Lulu by the Welsh National Opera

Ever feeling slightly apprehensive when going to a modern classical music concert? And what about a Stravinsky opera? Whatever your thoughts, all my worries were almost literally blown away by the high quality acting and the drama of last night's Lulu by the Welsh National Opera.

Marie Arnet as Lulu

Written in 1934, it had to wait almost thirty years to see its UK premiere at Sadler's Wells. Last night's performance may well have been a first for a Welsh audience, but the venue was almost sold out.

Alban Berg's opera Lulu is full of cliches but nothing short of drama. And given the thoroughly modern score, it was not surprising that the first act may have tempted some to nod off. Yet, as the action (and the killing) gathers pace, the twists and turns of the psychological dimensions multiply. The personas largely remain somewhat flat but that's to be expected in an opera that had anti-capitalism as its main motif. As money takes its toll on the social relationships in the narrative, you wonder why Berg sketched only the main protagonist as the one who always ends up on top. Yet, eventually Lulu's days are numbered too, murdered by Jack the Ripper as she and her numerous lovers (or pimps?) descend into the morass of London's underworld.

Musically there is a certain flow and smoothness to the third act that is lacking in the first and second. And the plot takes on speed in the third at the expense of logic. But the drama is palpable and makes you overlook the (at times inverted) stereotyping of the main characters.

All in all, a really impressive piece that was well acted by the cast and well sung by most of them. The WNO orchestra played it safe under the leadership of Lothar Koenigs, and kept the tension throughout, which is a real feat given the opera's length of 3 hours. Special mention should be made how well choreographed the entrances and movements were. The only drawback was the central piece of the setting, a huge cage which allowed the cast to play on several levels but cluttered the view of the choreography.

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