Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lulu in the Sky with Diamonds

"Search fearlessly for every sin, for out of sin comes joy."
Frank Wedekind - author of the play "Lulu"

Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
From Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Lennon and McCartney

It's hardly like "To Sir With Love!"
Babs to me, during the second intermission of "Lulu"

Lobmeyer crystal chandeliers at the Metropolitan New York
Last week I saw my very first opera. "Lulu" based on Frank Wedekind's play of the same name and set to opera by Alban Berg in 1937.

The crystal chandeliers that ascend silently to the gilded ceiling as the lights fade before the beginning of each performance at New York's Metropolitan Opera were apt. Diamonds in the sky, heralding all manner of characters and ideas.

There's an Alice-in-Wonderland quality about the chandeliers, a quality that was mirrored in the opera that was to follow their ascent. Although now that I come to think about it, perhaps the Brothers Grimm would be more in line ...

The opera was nothing like I had expected.

For starters, the lead women in it were young and slender. I'd been under the apparently erroneous impression that female opera singers were buxom creatures verging on middle age. I know better now.

Then there was the plot. I had decided to read up on the story line before going to the performance. Google is great for researching in a hurry. I expected a one paragraph synopsis. Opera for dummies sort of thing in a wiki somewhere.

Heads will rollI expected something about lovers and villains, cuckolds and unrequited love.

Wrong again. The shortest synopsis I found was three pages long, compactly written with every sentence describing several major life events.

No room for even a whittled down version here.

I can tell you about the main characters though and that might give you an idea f the complexity of the story.

The main characters in Berg's Lulu are - an animal tamer, an acrobat, a publisher, a prince, a lesbian,a physician, a banker, a schoolboy, a professor, a composer and his son, and Jack the Ripper. Oh, and of course Lulu who in the course of the play is sought after by nearly all of the above, marries, kills the composer son who she has married, is arrested, gets sent to prison, contracts cholera, is rescued by a lesbian, becomes a prostitute, gets syphilis and is eventually chopped up by Jack the Ripper.

The whole thing was sung in German. Luckily there were subtitles on the back of the seats in front. I liked the bit where Lulu coloratura-sopranoed things like, "I want to go to university and study journalism."

I had no idea that opera was like this!

The Loving PenguinI now have quite another take on twentieth century culture. Music and lyrics in particular. Sergeant Pepper, yawn, yawn. Passé when it was produced in 1967. Lou Red's "Walk on the Wild Side" (1972) - tame as milk. The Sex Pistols? The Doris Days of punk.

The score of Lulu contains no melody or harmony. There are (only???) twelve notes, all within an octave and treated equally. I am not sure if I understand the meaning of this and must assume it has something to do with the collapse of liberal democracy in Germany in the late 1930s. A political statement?

Clearly there's more to opera than meets the eye!

But on a serious note, I enjoyed the opera. It was nothing like I expected.

And so I think it'll be that start of many yet to come.

I can't believe what I've been missing.

Stay tuned!



jaded NYer said...

You got lucky!!! This sounds like a good opera. Most of them are long, boring, and way over-sung. Stretching the notes too long and over pronounced. This Lulu sounds nothing like conventional opera. Glad you enjoyed it. LOVE the chandelier!!!!

Anonymous said...

Lucky duck. That's a thing one could become quite passionate about. I'll watch the NYT Sunday edition for any comments.

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