ALBUM TITLE: Berg
PERFORMER: Marlis Petersen, Susan Graham, Daniel Brenna, Paul Groves, Johan Reuter, Martin Winkler, Franz Grundheber, Elizabeth DeSchong, Alan Oke; Metropolitan Opera/Lothar Koenigs; dir. William Kentridge (New York, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: 0075597945379 (Blu-ray plus DVD)
William Kentridge’s staging of Lulu, co-produced with New York’s Metropolitan Opera and Dutch National Opera, was English National Opera’s surprise hit last autumn. After Mark Wigglesworth’s savage, lyrical account of the score, it is fascinating to now hear Lothar Koenigs’s pristine approach in this live recording from New York, with Marlis Petersen as the super-sexualised young woman who claims that she ‘never pretended to be anything but what men see in me’, in her tenth and final production of Berg’s unfinished opera.
So richly allusive are Kentridge’s designs (images from Otto Dix and Sophie Täuber, the film-maker Georg Wilhelm Pabst, and Hermann Rorschach, inventor of the inkblot test) and so subtle the blend of mauves and mustards in Greta Goiris’s 1920s-style costumes, that the production retains its fascination over multiple viewings. Koenigs ensures maximum clarity from the strings and woodwind, especially in the orchestral interludes. It’s cool, clever playing that throws unusual focus on the seamy saxophone line that coils itself around each character’s description of Lulu.
Peterson is tirelessly intelligent and musical, delivering ‘O Freiheit’ with fearless beauty, and stripping her sound to a wan whisper as she haggles with Johan Reuter’s Dr Schön/Jack the Ripper in the final scene. There is luxury support from Susan Graham (a creamy-voiced Geschwitz), Paul Groves (The Painter), and Martin Winkler (Animal Tamer/Acrobat). Daniel Brenna’s Alwa – suffering a winter cold, perhaps – starts grainy and gets grainier, his tone spreading in Alwa and Lulu’s anti-love duet in Act II.
It’s not a perfect performance. It’s not a perfect opera. But altogether it is as fascinating as its heroine.
Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.