I had an idea I liked Alban Berg: he was a pupil of Shoenberg. I’ve seen Wozzeck twice. So I had a strong hunch I would love Lulu. Is it because I like expressionist German plays, or the old opera/ballet story, woman who loves, gets into big trouble and causes unhappiness and death? (The story of Lulu comes from two plays of Frank Wedekind, Erdgeist and Pandora’s Box). Anyway I bought tickets for Lulu at the Royal Opera House.
Then I discover curtain up at 6:30 – a tall order for Monday. There was nothing for it but to sink into my red plush seat, concentrate, let the music teach me what it’s all about. Which is exactly what happened. My companion and I poured over the luxurious red programme in between acts, lapping up our ice cream but it wasn’t really necessary. Somehow at the very bottom of understanding and concentration, my mind still full of nonsense from work, the grand drama dragged me upwards and upwards. Think of all those synapses being stretched and bent and shoved with so many things happening at once.
There was very little action at the beginning which turned out right; the drama arrived through the orchestra conducted by Antonio Pappano and incredible performances from all the cast. I especially enjoyed the animal trainer [Peter Rose] and Schigolch [Gwynne Howell] seemed genuinely decrepit as he struggled on and off stage. This made his character even more creepy. Was he Lulu’s father or lover?
Lulu hardly moved. The single chair on stage is claustrophobic, no where for Lulu to sit except on the lap of a man. It seems as if there is no where for her to go, she’s trapped on the stage while all the other characters try to gain something from their relationship with her. Even her portrait is just a circle of light, as if no one is really looking but taking it to mean whatever they want. When the Countess stands in the light herself at the end this was especially chilling. The sparseness of the production helped with the gradual build up of intensity. I almost leapt out of my seat.