Magazine article The Spectator

Animal Passion

Magazine article The Spectator

Animal Passion

Article excerpt

Opera

Animal passion

Lulu

Coliseum

ENO's production of Berg's Lulu, first mounted three years ago, is one of its outstanding successes. Richard Jones, the director, seems to feel a special affinity with Berg, to judge from his recent and wonderful Wozzeck for WNO. Yet Berg's two operas couldn't be more different. Stravinsky complained, as many people have, about the big orchestral interlude just before the final brief scene of Wozzeck, that it seems to be telling us how to feel. 'As if there were any question about how we should feel!' Stravinsky added. And, however much one loves that stretch of music on its own terms, it's hard to disagree. Whereas the over-riding feeling I always have at a performance of Lulu is exactly, 'How should I be feeling?'

On stage we see a variety of incidents, sexual and violent, generated by or around the central figure, about whom there is no agreement even as to whether she is active or passive. As husband after husband meets a sticky end, out of shock or jealousy, leaving Lulu unconcerned except possibly at the mess, it's hard not to take refuge in laughter, or feel that this is the blackest of black comedies. Yet quite often, though by no means consistently, the orchestra aches with compassion at least as much as it does in Wozzeck, opening up a chasm between how we respond to its promptings and how we feel about the action and words, and in what way they are to be taken as a commentary on the action.

The Prologue, in which the Animal Tamer - in this production, the recruiter for an audience for 'Adult Entertainment' - invites us to watch the goings-on in the human zoo we are about to witness, suggests a Brechtian detachment from whatever it is we are about to witness. And when the first scene of Act I in this production comes into view, we do see a stuffed jungle, complete with crocodile and tiger, while the Painter rapidly leaves his easel and takes off his clothes to have a session with the seductress - or unresisting seduced? - Lulu, provoking her first husband's heart attack. That was greeted with a roar of laughter at the Coliseum, and it is hard to feel it was misplaced. Yet in the next scene the Painter has married Lulu, only to find that she is Dr Schön's mistress, and he rushes off and cuts his throat, after which the orchestra indulges in a passionate interlude suggesting a kind and area of feeling quite foreign to anything that has preceded it.

And so it goes on, one revolting or absurd incident after another, with an influx of would-be lovers so great in Act II that it's all the furniture and implausibly large fireplace can do to cope with them. …

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