Lulu, Grand Théâtre, Geneva

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Come in all dirty men in macs from Geneva and neighbouring cantons. Olivier Py’s new Lulu comes with a health warning that the film used in the staging might shock sensitive souls; children under 16 are advised to stay away.

If this was meant to boost ticket sales, it failed. The theatre was only two-thirds full to start with and two intervals thinned the ranks further. And the film itself was a harmless, very blurred porn scene, not quite Sunday school material but nothing to shock impressionable minds used to much worse on daytime television.

Back in 2005, Py hit the headlines for engaging a generously endowed male porn star to parade nude during the bacchanal in Tannhäuser. That fell flat too.

Tannhäuser was bad; Lulu is even worse. Py mistakenly tries to reproduce on stage what he calls the “unbearable chromatic hysteria” of Berg’s music. The evening succumbs to baroque chaos as sets roll by and our eyes zap from one frenetic layer of action to another.

All the text is there, including the scenes that are normally off-stage but nothing, not even a heart attack, a suicide and several murders, hits home in this desperately unfocused extravaganza.

Occasional flashes of theatrical brilliance – the dumb show relating Lulu’s migration from police station to courtroom – show what might have been if Py had managed to fence in his fertile imagination. Instead, the hapless cast is dwarfed by detail. Even a wonderful, old-school singer such as Julia Juon (Geschwitz) fails to register fully. Pavlo Hunka’s Schön is similarly understated, even when he returns as Jack the Ripper in a Father Christmas costume. Gerhard Siegel struggles with Alwa’s crucial top notes but at least Sten Byriel’s gorilla-suited athlete takes over the stage with expert projection.

Patricia Petibon’s first Lulu is a work in progress, ill at ease in spoken German, but with all the vocal ammunition for a bright future now that her coloratura high-wire days are numbered. She deserved her ovation. So did conductor Marc Albrecht for skilfully combining hushed beauty and sharp violence. But Pierre André Weitz’s neon sets are now beyond a stylistic calling card; they have become a bad habit. ()

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