Thursday, August 12, 2010

Salzburg 2010: Why did Lulu sink!?

Lulu, August 11 2010, Felsenreitschule Salzburg

Patricia Petibon in Act-3 of Lulu in Salzburg

Marc Albrecht ..... Conductor
Vera Nemirova ..... Stage Director
Daniel Richter ..... Set Design

Patricia Petibon ..... Lulu
Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, Countess Geschwitz
Cora Burggraaf ..... A Theatrical Dresser, A High-School Boy, A Groom
Pavol Breslik ..... The Painter, A Negro
Michael Volle ..... Dr. Schön, Jack
Thomas Piffka ..... Alwa, Dr. Schön's son, a composer
Franz Grundheber ..... Schigolch, an old man
Thomas Johannes Mayer ..... An Animal Tamer, An Athlete
Heinz Zednik ..... The Prince, The Manservant
Andreas Conrad ..... The Marquis
Martin Tzonev ..... The Theater Manager, The Banker
Emilie Pictet ..... A Fifteen-year-old Girl
Cornelia Wulkopf ..... Her Mother
Astrid Monika Hofer ..... A Woman Artist
Simon Schnorr ..... A Journalist
Gerhard Peilstein ..... The Professor of Medicine, The Professor, The Police Officer
James Cleverton ..... A Servant

Vienna Philharmonic

This show had EVERYTHING to be extraordinary, but by lining up too many stars without real chemistry to glue them all together, your show is bound to sink. The organizers opted for the full three act version, which only made the show look longer, heavier and for Yours Truly more saddening...

I was trying to figure out the origin of the problem, i.e. the  starting point from which everything goes heavy, and I suspect Daniel Richter and Vera Nemirova didn't work together at all. They've only met up in Salzburg to sew up the show, and the organizer expected their respective talents to collide and the resulting burst would bring something artistically inspiring. For all I could see, they all failed in their intentions - and badly!

Daniel Richter is a fantastic painter and also a very expansive personality. An exhibition of his work is installed at Rupertinum (Modern Art Museum in Salzburg), and it shows a wonderfully sensible artist who could capture the absurdity of life around him and expose the hypocrisy of modern society by employing his own style. While his sets for the show are indeed pretty and do tell the story in the way he thinks it should be told, they lack in theatrical dynamics. While the first act works very well,  in the second act you could tell he and Vera Nemirova take different paths and the story gets stuck in the middle. From that point on, it all becomes heavy and unfinished, amateurish - if you wish... I completely understood Daniel's intention to progressively darken the sets and go for more "Scream"-like effects, but I'm talking about the theatrical inertia [am I harsh if I employ the word "laziness"?!] that unfortunately stand like a cloud all the way through the show.

Vera Nemirova was maybe too much impressed by Daniel Richter and his imposing paintings (covering the enormously wide stage of the Felsenreitschule) as well as his personality, and tried desperately to superimpose her vision of Lulu, which is unfortunately different/opposite from Richter's ideas. While he saw Lulu as a female Don Giovanni, she portrayed her through decomposition of a personality who eventually dies. I suspect Vera started changing her point of view when she arrived to Salzburg to start rehearsals, and then the show started to lose its sharpness, clear guidance... it got stuck between introspective and sociological vision of Lulu's faith -- none getting far enough.  Vera tried to pull the strings her way a bit and introduced some of her theatrical game in Act-3. To me it looked more as her desperate desire to detach her work from Richter's overwhelming drapes in the background, rather than something that naturally suited the dramatic action. Plus, it was too late...

Pierre Audi in Dionysos apparently decided to leave the space to Jonathan Meese and only corrected for glitches that might derail the theatrical flow -- the result was stunning, in spite of a weird libretto! ;) Lulu is dramatically infinitely richer  and opens a whole plethora of possibilities to a creative director. That's what makes it truly surprising to see Vera Nemirova drowned in it. Too bad! She's young and talented and I hope to see many more (better!) shows from her. Good luck!

In such a situation you'd expect the musicians to salvage the show. The orchestra and Marc Albrecht are good, but there too the show does not live to expectations. There were several passages of dozens of minutes in which the sound got amorphous, in which all the genius of Berg was lost. You didn't feel that network of atonal patterns that interfere with one another and give delightfully complex sound which dives deep into your heart and your brain... That's what you get while listening to the live performances of Berg's operas conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen or Pierre Boulez. Marc made a nice try but, I'm afraid, Berg is not really his niche.

Maestro Albrecht in the middle: between Petibon and Volle

And so the only element that somehow manages to keep the show afloat were the singers/actors.  Patricia Petibon is maybe not Christine Schafer (who killed the role of Lulu), but she does a wonderful job. Her physique and her effervescent personality help, her ease with top notes is also a bonus... Brava!

Thomas Johannes Mayer* [our valiant Wotan who managed to brilliantly sing the full run of Die Walküre at the 'impossible' auditorium of Opéra Bastille in May/June this year]  and always amazing Michael Volle [whose Wozzeck at Munich will remain one of the best ever!] were the strongest support to the whole show. Two great great singers!  Keep in mind that only big voices can survive the Felsenreitschule but when they do [survive] all their beauty becomes 1.000 times more impressive.

Michael Volle and Tanja Baumgartner

Tanja Ariane Baumgartner is a new name on a big stage, and from what I could see last night, that was definitely a triumphant debut. Thomas Piffka was briliant too, and Cora Burggraaf gave her best again (night after her appearance in Roméo et Juliette)

Thomas Johannes Mayer, Cora Burggraaf, and Andreas Conrad (also excellent!)

It was also pleasant to see Franz Grundheber [memorable Wozzeck in Chereau's production in Berlin] and Heinz Zednik [Loge/Mime in Cherau's Ring!] giving a very honorable performance, respectively.

Franz Grundheber

All in all Dionysos remains the best show I've seen in Salzburg this year. I expected the most from Lulu and

[*] Tom you need to create a website. It does help!

The above pics are mine and these below are from the Salzburg Festival's website:

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