© The Financial Times Ltd 2013 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
September 2, 2013 5:36 pm
Even those who don’t like the music of Alban Berg’s Lulu find it hard to deny the dramatic power of its theme – female objectification and the hypocrisy of a society that sanctions it. Take away the notion that Lulu is a creature of male fantasy, and transplant the story to the American civil rights era, and you have a neutered, confused version of a masterwork. That is precisely what Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth (born 1968) has created in American Lulu, her “interpretation” of the opera Berg based on two provocative plays by Frank Wedekind.
Premiered last year in Berlin, American Lulu is less an interpretation, more an attempt to tailor Berg’s opera to 21st-century feminist sensibilities. Neuwirth cuts the opera by about half, reduces the orchestra to a 27-piece band and interpolates jazz and blues to suit her 1960s/70s American milieu. Lulu is de-sexualised and the action transformed into a humourless parody of psychological manipulation and racial politics.
In a lengthy programme note Neuwirth tries to justify her work by citing Carmen Jones, the 1943 Broadway musical (later a film) that transposed Bizet’s Seville opera to the American south. Its success was based on a reinvention of Carmen in an up-to-date medium. What we get in American Lulu is an out-of-date critique of American race discrimination from a white European perspective – and the perverse spectacle of a politically engaged female composer taking on the work of an infinitely more gifted male one. The result is a yawn-fest.
This new staging, which transfers to London’s Young Vic on September 13, represents a collective failure of judgment by the four co-producing companies. With a meagre budget and the Orchestra of Scottish Opera occupying most of the stage, there is not much the director-designer team of John Fulljames and Magda Willi can do to create atmosphere: the action is reduced to a sequence of rudimentary cameos front-of-stage. Angel Blue’s Lulu remains a two-dimensional sketch, while Jacqui Dankworth’s Eleanor, the Geschwitz character, seems to have dropped in from a cabaret act. It is left to Donald Maxwell, as Dr Bloom (Dr Schön), to show what a real stage personality can do.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.