COMPOSERS: Alban Berg
LABELS: Bel Air
ALBUM TITLE: Berg
PERFORMER: Marlis Petersen, Daniela Sindram, Rachael Wilson, Rainer Trost, Bo Skovhus, Matthias Klink; Bavarian State Orchestra/Kirill Petrenko; dir. Dmitri Tcherniakov (Munich, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: BAC 129
Director Dmitri Tcherniakov rejects the cliché of a monstrous, pseudo-innocent vamp who torments men unto death, suicide and murder – including her own. Yet his protagonist, the vocally stunning Marlis Petersen, feels reined in from her extreme coloratura. White-costumed, in a set comprising glass labyrinths, cold lighting and anonymous crowds, she is neither determined rebel nor passive victim, but self-endangered by her desperation to be loved – by more or less anyone, but especially her businessman ‘protector’ Dr Schön (Bo Skovhus, more brooding than menacing). Thus subtler clichés take hold – and Tcherniakov hardly avoids caricature in portraying the lesbian Geschwitz (Daniela Sindram) as a mannishly pathetic bluestocking, while the composer Alwa (Matthias Klink) remains a dithering aesthete until his violent demise. For all Lulu’s teasing come-ons, the production lacks erotic charge, and the savage black comedy that Berg carefully retained from Wedekind’s Lulu plays is dulled from a lampooning exposure of bourgeois hypocrisy into a basically domesticated – if complex and viscerally brutal – narrative of lovers, jealousy and greed.
Yet all is very far from lost, thanks to an impeccable cast who attack that narrative with exceptional music-dramatic skill, and the ravishingly transparent playing of the Bavarian State Orchestra under music director, Kirill Petrenko. Petersen invests Lulu with a paradoxical strength in vulnerability, killing herself rather than dying by Jack the Ripper’s hand. Close-up camera work makes the most of intimate gestures and facial expressions lost in the theatre but which, if not visionary, help to make this Lulu tragically human.