RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Lulu - Opera in three acts: completion by Friedrich Cerha (1937/1979)
Patricia Petibon - Lulu; Tanja Ariane Baumgartner - Countess Geschwitz; Michael Volle - Dr Schon; Thomas Piffka - Alwa; Franz Grundheber - Schigolch; Thomas Johannes Mayer - Animal Trainer
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Marc Albrecht
rec. Salzburg Festival, Haus Für Mozart, Salzburg, Austria, 2011
Sound Format PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround; Picture Format 16:9, 1080i; Regions 2-6: Subtitles in English, German, French, Italian and several Asian subtitle languages**
Reviewed in surround.
EUROARTS/UNITEL CLASSICA 2072564 BLU-RAY [173:00]
This is a well produced disc with top quality sound and pictures. The menus do suffer from music but at least the opening and closing credits are accompanied only by audience noise. Brian Large's name on the video direction ensures the very highest standards and he comes particularly into his own in the opening of Act 3, of which more below. The camera-work throughout is outstanding. The English subtitles are well synchronised to this complex and difficult score, aiding understanding greatly.
Alban Berg did not live to complete Lulu, leaving its final act partially scored but mostly composed. This performance is of the now well accepted completion by Friedrich Cerha. Cerha had a fair copy of the short score to guide him, plus the full score of 390 (out of 1326) bars of Act 3 along with sketches and other material. What he has achieved is as full a realization of Berg's intentions as is possible. Since Pierre Boulez and Patrice Chéreau premiered this three Act completion in 1979 the old truncated two Act version has dropped out of the repertoire. The present production was first given at Salzburg in 2010 and according to the booklet essay - but not the box or listings - this film comes from the 2011 revival.
Music of the Second Viennese School is rarely easy to listen to. Serialism's creator Schoenberg has sometimes been labelled a great theorist rather than a great composer, a label that makes one pause to think. His two primary followers, Webern and Berg, took their own very different paths: Webern became the genius of the atonal musical epigram whilst Berg followed the pointers left by Mahler in his passionate and dramatic compositions of which his operas Wozzeck and Lulu are the theatrical high points. Compared to Lulu, Wozzeck is easy listening. In the unlikely event of someone buying this disc unaware of what it contains, be warned it is strong meat for the ear as well as the eyes. There are occasions when the intensity is almost overwhelming. Lulu's outburst to freedom in Act 2 is one such. The Interlude between Act 1 Scenes 2 and 3 is another. Berg's music can hardly be called lyrical in the conventional sense but it always comes across as deeply felt. Lulu's sordid life and even more sordid death seem to matter.
The singing and acting of Patricia Petibon as Lulu is magnificent. She is that rare creature, a singer with the face and figure of a model, who manages to look utterly convincing as the femme fatale even when dressed in the most alluring lingerie - as she is during much of Act 1. One does not have to wonder why men fall under her spell and even die of it. She is matched by the superb singing of Tanja Ariane Baumgartner as the Countess Geschwitz, Michael Volle as Dr Schon, Thomas Piffka as Alwa and Franz Grundheber as Schigolch, not to mention the rest of a great cast. The stage director Vera Nemirov has daringly set almost the whole of Act 3 Scene 1 off the stage in the auditorium among the audience, in the aisles, on the edge of orchestra pit and only finally on the stage. Here we see the richest audience in Europe in the middle of a scene of fraudulent share dealing and general social corruption. It is to their credit (?) that they look only mildly shocked! This is a coup de théâtre for Nemirova and a challenge for Brian Large's cameramen and women. The sound and picture continue flawlessly wherever the peripatetic cast wander. There are oddities in the staging: Berg's Filmmusik in Act 2 plays without any film despite the clear film structure left by the composer, but at less than 3 minutes this does not matter much; the seduction scene at the end of Act 2 has Alwa ignoring both Lulu herself and Berg's libretto by spending his time feverishly writing up an orchestral score. Presumably we are supposed to see Alwa as Berg himself. Almost all of the staging and costuming is dedicated to the service of this music. It is not necessary to suspend one's disbelief as so often happens in current opera staging: here one is gripped from beginning to the disturbing and bloody end.
A wonderful Lulu. Petibon is its true star in every respect. An outstanding disc.