The lion-tamer’s snake in the prologue is a little ballet girl, complete with tutu. Later, she will shed the tutu – and just about everything else. Krzysztof Warlikowski’s Lulu is a porn star in pointe shoes, doomed to fulfilling male fantasies in a way that is decorative but immensely painful.
La Monnaie has staked a lot on this new production of Alban Berg’s Lulu. A big-name cast, a lavish production, a bold concept – every new take on Lulu must re-think Wedekind’s take on the deadly child-woman for our age but La Monnaie ventures a little further out than many.
The risks have paid off. Warlikowski’s busy layers of video, allusion to cinema, supernumeraries and sub-plots are a lot to take in, but it all adds up to a genuinely fresh take on the work within a framework of unfussy, direct storytelling.
Barbara Hannigan is Warlikowski’s Lulu, and the production seems built around her. Who else would look this good in nothing but lingerie and pointe shoes while singing each note with such crystalline perfection? Her Painter (Tom Randle, in top form) is a video artist, sending overwrought messages via his iPhone to the camera (“Lulu you BITCH”) between shoots. He returns for the last act as The Negro, in afro-textured wig and white face make-up – a droll touch. Dietrich Henschel makes a virile Dr Schön, sounding a little younger than his stage son, Charles Workman’s noble Alwa. Natascha Petrinsky gives us a Geschwitz who is smoulderingly aware of her own erotic power, a welcome move away from the tragic frump directors usually make of the character.
Lulu’s blood-soaked progress is interwoven with children’s ballet classes. Her young alter-ego watches, resting her chin on the barre, as Lulu shoots her last husband. Her work as a doomed prostitute is observed by a clutch of boarding-school ballet-girls as they change into princess-style night-gowns. As Jack the Ripper moves in (Henschel, a cross between Andy Warhol and The Joker), Schigolch (Pavlo Hunka, sinister) is gently tucking the smallest ballerina into bed. It makes a brilliant, disturbing conclusion.
On the podium, Paul Daniel, replacing Lothar Koenigs at short notice, gives the whole a sharp-edged clarity.