[NOTE: This review was written in February 2021 as part of my 2010-2019 decade-in-review post.]
Karen, Jere, Dale, and I saw Alban Berg’s *Lulu* at the Met on May 15, 2010. *Lulu* has been one of my favorite operas for a long time and I was very excited to get to see it at the Met.
The world of international opera lives and dies on cast changes, and this set of performances had an unusual one: *Lulu* is a specialty of the Met’s music director, James Levine, and for many it was hard to imagine that anyone else could conduct that opera at the Met. But Levine withdrew from the last weeks of the season because of back pain and they brought it Fabio Luisi to take over much of his conducting duties.
I knew Levine’s way with Berg from recordings and Karen and I heard him conduct *Moses und Aron,* an opera by Berg’s teacher Arnold Schoenberg. Levine got the most luminous, astonishing sounds out of the Met orchestra, it was breathtaking. I was looking forward to something similar in Levine’s *Lulu,* and with a strong dose of heavy drama at the end of the show.
What we got instead from Luisi was a breath of fresh air. He didn’t soft-pedal any of the griminess or dark drama of the score, but it had a buoyancy that I hadn’t heard before. This was perfectly suited to the John Dexter production, which stages the show more like a French bedroom farce than like a cornerstone of German Expressionism. As often happens, the light touch at the start of the show gave more depth and impact to the devastating ending.
The singers were all extraordinary. Marlis Petersen was a Lulu for the ages, secure and radiant and with that extra dash of <<je ne sais quoi>> that you need in the role. It’s no surprise that she’s the leading Lulu of her generation.
I was very excited to hear Anne Sophie von Otter as the Countess Geschwitz, and she totally delivered. She made Berg sound like a second cousin to Mahler, which is a dream in itself.
Gary Lehman was Alwa, the romantic young tenor. This was to have been his Met debut role, but he made an last-minute unscheduled debut in March of 2008 as Tristan. I was there that night and it was one for the ages, probably the most exciting and bizarre night I’ll ever spend at the Met. You can read my review here:
Lehman was very good as Alwa but not exactly a slam dunk. It was a treat to see him in a role that he knew and had sung before, with a little more time to know what he was doing and what was expected of him.
Graham Clark was the other tenor in the show and wow, talk about making you sit up and take notice. Clark is what’s known as a “character tenor,” a tenor who sings roles that are more dependent on the drama and the expression of the text than they are on singing a long legato line, grasping the soprano, and nailing a high note. He played three different roles in this show, all slightly seedy or smarmy characters. Let me tell you, Clark had PING. That’s a term we singers use to describe the ideal placement of the voice to make it resonate in the space. I’d never heard such PING, it was thrilling.
Bradley Garvin sang gorgeously and gave a delightful (and slightly menacing) performance as the acrobat. He sings a lot of small roles at the Met, it seems like he was relishing the chance to sing something meaty.
The primary revelation of the performance was conductor Fabio Luisi but the nearly as startling secondary revelation was James Morris as Dr. Schön. I had heard Morris in Wagner and Wagnerian roles many times, he was the leading Wotan of the late 80s and 90s. That was a few years ago, as you might have noticed. He’s still singing many of those roles but not really singing them with the same ease or line. This role was absolutely perfect for him right now. The voice was resonant and full of bite and color, and most perfectly for him, the phrases were short. It’s not a small role and it’s certainly challenging musically but not as much of a stretch vocally speaking. He blew me away.