Opera Scotland

American Lulu

Music

Olga Neuwirth (born Graz, 4 August 1968).

Text

Composer and Helga Utz.

Source

Libretto by Alban Berg for his opera derived from plays by Frank Wedekind.

 

Premieres

First Performance: Berlin (Komische Oper), 2012.

First Performance in UK: Edinburgh (King's Theatre), 30 August 2013.

 

Background

Alban Berg died leaving the third act of Lulu unfinished, and the opera was performed for several decades as an incomplete two-act work. Even so, its high quality and importance were recognized. It was only following the death of his widow that others were allowed to gain full access to the unfinished sections and realise that they were in a more usable state than had been believed. The completion by Frierich Cerha was premiered at the Paris Opéra in 1979, in a staging conducted by Pierre Boulez and directed by Patrice Chéreau. That is now the standard version for performance.

That does not necessarily need to be the last word on the subject, and it is possible to imagine an alternative to Cerha's thoughts, as we have different completions to Mozart's Requiem and Mahler's Tenth Symphony. Olga Neuwirth is the first composer to attempt such a feat. But she has done something at once more radical and more straightforward, in performing a wholesale transplant to an American milieu. Not only is the work updated to the period of the civil rights movement, but the characters are generally renamed, and the musical approach is in a jazzier style, reworked for chamber orchestra in a completely new orchestration. The piece is also rather shorter than the completed version - only an hour and forty minutes without an interval.

The production opened at Bregenz before its two Edinburgh performances. It then moved to London, for performances at the Young Vic, where Neuwirth's last opera, No Highway, received its British premiere in a co-production between the Young Vic and ENO.

 

Main Characters

Clarence (bass).

Lulu (soprano).

Photographer (tenor).

Dr Bloom, a wealthy businessman (baritone).

Jimmy, a songwriter, Bloom's son (tenor).

Eleanor, a jazz singer (singer).

Athlete (bass).

Young Man (tenor)

 

Plot Summary

The action takes place in the USA. In a prologue, set in the 1970s, Clarence asks Lulu why, when she is so wealthy, she remains insatiable. She reflects on the past.

In New Orleans in the 50s, Lulu is the wife of an elderly professor. When a photographer is taking pictures of her their relationship develops rapidly. Her husband discovers them together, and drops dead of a heart attack. The photographer is a bit shocked at Lulu's callous attitude to her sudden widowhood, but marries her anyway. They make lots of money from his photographs of her. Dr Bloom, a wealthy middle-aged businessman, now makes open advances to Lulu, and the photographer is horrified to discover that it is Bloom who has been buying the photographs. Bloom also admits to a long affair with Lulu, starting when she was twelve. The photographer kills himself.

Lulu works as a singer in a club owned by Bloom, whose son, Jimmy, composes her material. She is jealous because of Bloom's engagement to a young woman, but Bloom admits he needs Lulu, and ends the engagement. They get married, but Bloom becomes highly jealous of all Lulu's admirers - one of them is Jimmy. Bloom is especially concerned about the apparent attraction between Lulu and another singer, Eleanor. There are several others, though, and in an argument that develops, Lulu shoots Bloom dead.

Sent to prison for her husband's murder, Lulu is released quite soon, through the intervention of Eleanor. She seduces Jimmy, and then moves to New York where she works as a prostitute, managed by Clarence. She blackmails one of her clients, a banker, is traced by Eleanor, who has now herself become a successful singer, independtly of Lulu. She attacks one of her clients, a young man. Eventually she is herself killed.

The Cast

Athlete
 
Banker
 
Clarence
 
Dr Bloom
 
Eleanor
 a jazz singer
Jimmy
 Bloom's son
Lulu
 
Photographer
 
Police Commissioner
 
Professor
 
Young Man
 

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