Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wotan versus the Earth Spirit

Lulu -- Metropolitan Opera, 5/12/2010
Petersen, Morris, Lehman, von Otter, Howell, Schade, Clark, Garvin / Luisi

In the essentially ideal cast the Met has assembled for Alban Berg's masterpiece, James Morris stands out. As embodied by him, Dr. Schön steps out of Lulu's lineup of more-or-less-pathetic husband-victims to be the other main character of the opera, the anti-Carmen who seduces Lulu (temporarily) out of her world and into a life of relative respectability. Yes, that analogy may be a bit much... In any case, Morris' force and presence (and delicious German diction) let us see what was in the piece all along: Schön is the one man Lulu desires, the one she pursues, marries (she tells him at Act 2's start that she wed him, not vice versa), and loves (as she says even after having shot him). Is it any surprise that at the end, having found no satisfaction outside the worlds Dr. Schön created for her (and note that he set up her previous marriages, enabled her stage success, and dealt with her husband's messy death without landing anyone in prison), she will not let "him" go once he reappears, even as Jack the Ripper?

The others were all impressive in more foreseeable ways. Marlis Petersen handles the title part with apparent ease: though her tone hardens for some of the most taxing notes, for the most part it maintains its sonic charm throughout Berg's obstacle course -- and there's a flutter in her vibrato that suggests Dawn Upshaw, which perfectly fits the character. At least as importantly, she well conveys -- again without too much effort -- the weightless not-quite-blank quality of a character who's both a dancer and a canvas for others' desires. (This is where her predecessor Christine Schäfer fell well short.) Gary Lehman both brings oft-lacking vocal force to Alwa and well suggests his moral weakness, etc. etc.

Perhaps the only thing short of a historically great performance here is Fabio Luisi's work in the pit. Not that it's not clear and balanced and beautiful and organized (the tricky ensembles, for one thing, all come off stunningly well), but Luisi's pursuit of balance forecloses thorough exploration of the score and story's desperation, violence, and overpowering sensuality (though Levine has perhaps too much chased the latter).

More after the matinee -- and if you have the choice to go, do so.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.