Cher Public

Look after Lulu

“It’s fortunate that Lulu at Den Norske Opera was the last stop on the ‘Regietournee,’ because honestly anything after that would have amounted to an anticlimax. If there is a more brilliant director working in opera today than Stefan Herheim, well, maybe I shouldn’t see any of his work, because it might be too much for the human brain to absorb.” [Rough and Regie]

  • mandryka


  • CruzSF

    This production sounds fascinating, and not inaccessible to Lulu newbies. Thanks for such a detailed description of the staging. (And before anyone else gets to it: I read this essay as a presentation of what regie can do, and not as a full-fledged review, so the lack of singing critique didn’t bother me.)

    Your Regietournee is inspiring me to plan my own opera-based trip.

    • ianw2

      Can I come?

      I may have wet my panties just a little at the thought of Damrau in this production.

      • CruzSF

        Sure! There are so many themes around which to build a tournée: Damrau, regie, singers-who-won’t-venture-as-far-west-as-SF, wet panties… Really, the tourneé could become an annual event.

  • Wow, indeed. Lulu is my kinda gal, and this sounds precisely like my kinda show. While a Met mounting enticing, I’d almost prefer to see this kind thing at City Opera. Yes. Yes, I would.

    • Second part got left off: Danke for such a detailed and beautifully descriptive review -- not too many words at all . . . just right!

    • havfruen

      What a great idea for City Opera!

      It’s too bad that it was presented in Oslo and Copenhagen where there is alarmingly little opera so that a whole generation of opera-goers is growing up not knowing traditional repertory because money is lavished on productions such as Lulu. This is not meant as a criticism of Lulu ( although I don’t care for it myself) but rather concern for the local opera going public ( of which I often am one)
      It would be a shame if tiny “markets” such as Oslo and Copenhagen become “destinations” for opera tourists at the expense of “the natives”.

      • CruzSF

        it looks like Den Norske Opera has a second stage for more experimental or rarely performed works. On which stage was Lulu: the main or second stage?

        • IngeK

          Lulu was on the main stage. The “second” stage is smaller and hosts things like chamber music, children’s operas, and less traditional things. I’ve not been there yet, but expect to next month.

          • CruzSF

            Thanks, Inge. I wondered if Lulu was a second stage production, since it seems pretty experimental (by some standards). I’m still waiting for it to return to my (provincial) opera house, where it hasn’t been staged since ’98. I’ve never seen it.

        • A. Poggia Turra

          Cruz, one of the wonders of these new European houses is their intimate size; the Holmen Operaen in Copenhagen seats 1445, while the new Oslo house seats 1390. And of course, the old historic houses like the Semperoper and the Staatsoper Unter den Linden are of similar size.

          I know it’s kind of hard for those of us who learned to love opera in zepplin hangars like the Met, the Civic Opera House and the War Memorial (where I cut my operatic teeth), but the performance’s impact can be so much more immediate when massive distances between stage and audience do not need to be negotiated.

          I strongly urge you and all Parterians to do what you need to do to accomplish such a trip. Here’s one way to do it: get a frequent flyer miles-earning credit card, and put EVERY PURCHASE, no matter how small (pack of gum, newspaper, everything!) You’d be surprised how fast those miles add up.

          And also: don’t let the prospect of fear of traveling by yourself stop you. Although it is very nice to have someone with you to share the experience, as our Doyenne and the lovely Ms. Fatale did, going alone (as I have done for my many European/Regie forays) is better than not going, and it does give you the serendipitous ability to set your own pace during the non-opera-going parts of the trip.

          • CruzSF

            A. Poggia T, those small houses sound lovely. Hopefully, Gockley can get the SFO annex up and running before too much longer (although it’s at least 5 years away). 

            This June, I’m seeing an opera in an 800 seat house (well, theater, anyway), here in the States. I can’t imagine the intimacy but I’m looking forward to it, as you can guess.

            I’m not usually a day-dreamer, but La C’s recent tournee has really set my mind going. I’ve already informed the other Mr. CruzSF that I’m plotting an itinerary and he’s welcome to join me but his presence isn’t required.  
            We’ve been together 18 years so we already know some travel apart can be good for a marriage.

      • Henry Holland

        It’s too bad that it was presented in Oslo and Copenhagen where there is alarmingly little opera so that a whole generation of opera-goers is growing up not knowing traditional repertory because money is lavished on productions such as Lulu

        What on earth are babbling about? (from Operabase)

        Oslo 2009/10 (9 Productions)
        Rusalka / Il combattimento (Monteverdi) / Eine Bitte (new opera by Eggen) / Don Pasquale / Fanciulla / Figaro / Ariande / Tannhauser / Around the World in 80 Days (Kverndokk)

        Oslo 2010/11 (11 productions)
        Tosca / Oedipus Rex > L’enfant et les sortileges / Figaro / Cinderella (Maxwell Davies) / Onegin / Orephee et Eurydice (Gluck) / Cosi / Lucretia / Lulu / Rigoletto / Grimes

        Kobenhaven 2009/10 (16 productions)
        Onegin / El Cimarron (Henze, hi Opera Chic!) / Lucia / Traviata / Carmen (31 performances (!!!) / Ariadne / Tannhauser / Pelleas / Zauberflote / Carmelites / Rake / Idomeneo / Elektra / Skin Deep (Sawer) / My Fair Lady / Waiting In Nowhere (Hadziselimovic)

        Kobenhaven 2010/11 (13 productions)
        Dancer in the Dark (Ruders) / Nabucco / Lulu (Harheim) / Tristan / Butterfly / Boheme / Boris / Romeo & Juliet (Gounod) / My Fair Lady (again!) / Parsifal / Frau / Turandot / Xerxes

        Maybe a whole generation of Scandanavians aren’t getting the standard rep because their opera companies do Carmen 31 times in one season! Possibly comparable companies in the US: Lyric does 8 productions a year, San Francisco 12.

        This totally reminds of some of the pearl clutching around these parts when Gerard Mortier announced his first season at NYCO. “OMG! No baroque! NO BEL CANTO OMG OMG OMG! No Wagner! Wherever will we go to hear Donizetti and Rossini???????”. The whole “We’re having that nasty modern stuff shoved down our throats” meme was tired then, it’s tired now.

        • Henry Holland

          havfruen, thanks for the thoughtful post. Yes, I don’t know the nuances of the opera situation in Kobenhaven and Oslo, I merely posted that list to counter your idea that novice opera goers in those cities have reduced chances to see the standard rep because they’re doing stuff like Lulu. My lists show that’s simply not true, out of something like 50 productions, there’s maybe 5 or 6 that could be considered “difficult”. The rest is as mainstream and typical as it gets, so what if Nabucco was a travesty, the Met’s recent production got scathing reviews for the production. Bad productions, poor singing, crappy conducting happen, it’s why some people prefer listening to recordings (see a thread down the page) to the live experience.

          Besides, maybe there’s a novice that’s blown away by Harheim’s Lulu and is hooked. The first three opera recordings I bought were: Lear, Die Soldaten and The Devils of Loudon. I guarantee you, if somebody had taken me under their wing and my first three operas were La Traviata, Lucia and The Barber of Seville, I wouldn’t be here, I would have bailed 30 years ago and been a lot more financially set than I am today. To assume that everyone wants the safe classics is misguided in my opinion.

      • mia apulia

        I think many of the “natives” might be much more sophisticated than you think, and Norwegians (for example) travel outside their own country quite often since they have the money to do so and a great deal of motivation to escape the dark winter. Not a few of them winter in Italy, for example, where they can see quite a bit of traditional opera.

        • CruzSF

          I thought havfruen was speaking as a native. Isn’t s/he Norwegian and from Oslo?

          • havfruen

            Hi Cruz,

            I’m actually a native Copenhagener. My family has been attending opera for years in this city -- even when money was tight. The “conversation” about this issue has taken some interesting turns.

            Just a few comments.

            I never suggested that he “natives” (which includes me) are not “sophisticated” But to be sophisticated you need to be knowledgeable.

            The opera and ballet in Copenhagen used to be a place families could go to during the dreary winter ( and not THAT many of us “winter” in Italy) and in fact bring our “children” to share an experience and create the next generation of opera lovers. Carl Nielsen’s Maskarade ( in it’s traditional incarnation), refers as much to the need for bringing “light” to the dark Copenhagen winters.

            Those opportunities have disappeared. Whether because of ticket prices, new subscription policies or productions, I can’t say.

            Having lived in both LA and NYC, I do understand that opera going is different in those cities. Copenhagen probably does have a more diverse season than LA opera, but that doesn’t take away from the point I was trying to make. I guess I didn’t present very convincingly.

            Ironically, it is probably the Met HD which will create the next generation of opera goers in Denmark.

            Henry’s list of offerings is informative but not illuminating -- the Nabucco was a travesty, there is more to the “Carmen” story than is suggested by the list, My Fair Lady ( ok, maybe that weakens the “sophisticated” argument) etc.etc. You simply have to be there to understand what is going on.

            I’ll close with saying that New York City is so lucky that it has the possibility of keeping “classics” (no pearls) alive and experimenting with new works and singers -- all on the same plaza. Good lucky NYCO!!!

          • havfruen

            OK, I meant “good luck”, but maybe lucky works!

          • Henry Holland

            Sorry about using the wrong tab to post my reply to havfruen!

          • CruzSF

            havfruen, are the Met HD broadcasts well-attended in Copenhagen?

    • Feldmarschallin

      well I doubt that City Opera could afford a top Lulu like Petersen, Schaefer or Damrau should she ever try the role out. From my understanding Damrau gets the top fee in Europe and at the Met. I do not know how much the top fee is at the City Opera but perhaps Mr. Koch could subsidize it since it would be mere pennies for him. Anyway he got what he wanted out of the deal so I doubt he would even pay a single penny more. I think the Herheim Lulu is going to Dresden if I am not mistaken. Hopefully it will be filmed at some point but I am still waiting for the Bayreuth Parsifal. The horrible Meistersinger they had to film of course because it was Katharina but the great Herheim Parsifal was not filmed yet. Of course I would prefer a better Kundry than the one I had (de Young).

      • spiderman

        why need a Petersen, Schaefer (boring) or Damrau (hasn’t done the role yet), when there are singers like her:

        • spiderman

          unfortunately out of synch, sorry. but i think she is quite facinating

      • Henry Holland

        I think the Herheim Lulu is going to Dresden if I am not mistaken

        Yes, in February, 2012. It should be amazing in that small house. Don’t know about the new completion, this from Our Doyenne’s review has me skeptical:

        “this production uses a new realization of the third act by Eberhard Kloke that includes long virtuoso solos for violin, piano and accordion during the Paris scene”

        Berg finished the opera in short score except for a few bits in the London scene (and at that point in the opera it’s pretty much a reprise of material already heard) and he orchestrated about a 1/4 of the third act. Cerha’s completion job is incredible, why bother with a new one? It was like hearing Berio’s completion of Turandot, it was nice but it sounded like Debussy most of the time.

        • Harry

          Henry Holland : I wish to comment further on Berio’s completion of Turandot in regard to Alfano’s full completion. Not the truncated Alfano version of it, presently still tacked on). The moment the Berio starts, you are in a completely different foreign sound world. Who can forget that awful Berio ending -- ‘Metropolis’ styled production with Johan Botha ; and Gabriele Schnaut (Shout!), riding down that huge elevator. Then with Turandot and the Calaf singing of love over dead Liu on a hospital trolley.
          With the full Alfano: Turandot as an opera is more seamless and further enhanced sound wise, with all that blazing brass.

  • manou
  • Baritenor

    This sounds amazing. I really hope it gets filmed; I would see this production in a heartbeat.

    As for Gary Lehman’s comedy skills, its worth remembering he was once a baritone, and did some very funny stuff:

    • That was very charming -- thanks for the clip.

  • Arianna a Nasso

    Why is it a bad thing to learn Lulu instead of the “traditional” repertory? I don’t understand why it’s more important to see Faust, Lucia, Fledermaus, or Butterfly than Lulu or Wozzeck. There are more singers who can do Lulu justice than a lot of the traditional operas, and directors are more inspired by the piece than a lot of 19th century rep, so the chance of getting an excellent evening of Lulu is much higher than a decent Forza.

    Repertoire is always evolving so I do see the idea of a fixed “traditional” repertory useful. Should we be stuck with the repertory of 1940 with hardly any Handel, Janacek, Mozart besides the top 5, bel canto beyond a few titles, etc.? I hope not.

    • semira mide

      Indeed Repertoire is evolving, but to make the analogy with the symphonic repertoire, it would be like having a season with Berg and not Beethoven.
      Classics may be warhorses to some, but there’s a good reason they are called classics.

      • CruzSF

        Den Norske Opera’s current season featured (-s) Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, Gluck, Tchaikovsky, and Britten. Maybe Berg bumped Wagner from the schedule?

        • Henry Holland

          CruzSF, sorry for duplicating some of your post upthread, I hadn’t scrolled down this far yet.

          • CruzSF

            Henry H, your info was much more complete and made the point more forcefully.  No apology needed.

        • mia apulia

          well the classics are certainly not in danger!

    • Harry

      Arianna d Nasso : I would question your contention that “There are more singers who can do Lulu justice than a lot of the traditional operas”. Lulu is an opera where the soprano better know what she is really doing or she is going to come to grief, very quickly. Even then, a accomplished performer should not be too ready to stay tangled in that ‘field of endeavor’ too long. Or we often see them come to be politely referred to, as ‘singing actresses’. Berg did not exactly write for ‘voice’.

  • I don’t even know this opera (though I’ve heard bits of it before) and I was thoroughly engaged by this article. Bravo, JJ.

    • Porgy Amor

      Oh, see it somehow, somewhere, kashania. Lulu belongs on any 20th-century opera short list, and it’s loads of fun. I wish Stratas (of Boulez’s recording of the Chereau production) were on the Dexter/Levine/Met DVD, but alas, fate prevented it. I am not among the many admirers of Migenes, who stepped in, but love that performance otherwise. The Glyndebourne DVD with Schaefer is good too.

      • Harry

        No one seems to mention the EMI complete Lulu with Patricia Wise , a live recording from Paris under Jeffrey Tate. I would be curious of hearing other opinions how they find it.

    • ianw2

      I second Porgy. I’ve only seen it years back conducted by Simone Young (a production which I loved but now seems rather tame by comparison). One of the most astonishing nights in the theatre I’ve ever had. The whole second act felt like five minutes.

      • Harry

        I saw that Simone Young conducted Lulu production. I must admit I was rather prejudiced against her before that. But her conducting of Lulu bowled me completely over from the opening moment, Lulu as an infant girl was pushed on stage in a supermarket trolley as ‘commodity’. Totally in control of the orchestra from the slightest flutter to the most savage crescendos.
        This new production as it has been so fully described, one wonders whether such a packing in of extra clever layers on top of what is already there, could lead to some form of sensory overload. Lulu screams for clarity ‘not an never ending infinity of mirrors’ complex clutter. You are already dealing with a referenced multitude of characters, complete evolving symmetrical plot lines plus 12 tone music.

    • Batty Masetto

      Thirding here (or fourthing or whatever), Kashania, it’s a magnificent thing. I am filled with admiration at JJ’s ability to recall and interpret a theatrical experience in such evocative detail.

    • Believe me, I haven’t avoided the opera intentionally. I admire Wozzek greatly and found the parts of Lulu that I’ve heard very powerful. It just hasn’t crossed my path yet. And frankly, it’s nice to still have a few major works left on the “to do” list.

  • Arianna a Nasso

    “so I DON’T see the idea…”

  • operalover9001

    Oh yes, my dream cast of Lulu with Damrau, Kaufmann, Pape, and Meier, conducted by Barenboim…

  • Dawn Fatale

    This was one of the greatest productions I’ve seen on the opera stage. If i may add one comment to JJ’s analysis, the thing that impressed me the most about this was how musical it all was. In particular, Lulu never merely walked around the stage -- she moved to her music. This gave so much life to every foxtrot, tango, waltz, etc that make up the fabric of this score. As a result, I heard so many new things in a score that I thought I knew reasonably well.

  • Hoffmann

    Thank you for this great article, Lulu in Oslo was one of the most amazing operatic experiences I have been lucky enough to get to, Stefan Herheim is an amazing director. I really hope that this production will be recorded and released on DVD, and someone really needs to pull their finger out and get the Herheim’s Parsifal from Bayreuth recorded for DVD before it is retired…

    • Hoffmann

      By the way the Rape of Lucretia in the second house in Oslo was pretty spectacular too…

  • A. Poggia Turra

    Can a German-speaker please read the linked page (I don’t trust Google Translate) and let me/us know if this is confirmation that the Bayreuth Siemens webcast is going to show the Neuenfels Lohengrin this August, and the new-in-2011 Tannhaeuser in 2012???

    Please let this be true!!

    • Batty Masetto

      So it seems, Poggia. Lohengrin is also confirmed on the Siemens site.

  • Clita del Toro

    I was at the Wozzeck with Steber and Uhde when it was done at the Met--saw it twice that year and liked it. I like the opera even more now. It was done in English in those days--YUCH!

    I did see a great production of Lulu here at LOC a few years ago. I didn’t think the soprano singing Lulu was that effective vocally and dramatically as other did. Can’t seem to remember her name--think she sang it at the Met as well??

    I know that most find Wozzeck to be the greatest of the two works, but I find it a bit too depressing, although I love the score.
    I prefer Lulu’s story to it and find it strange and fascinating. Maybe I am too influenced by the great movie, Pandora’s Box.

  • Clita del Toro

    P.S. Kashie, before you get into the opera, Lulu, perhaps it would be fun for you to rent the 1929 film, Pandora’s Box. Louise Brooks is mesmerizing, unforgettable as Lulu.

    I have the Glyndebourne DVD of Lulu with Christine Schaeffer, directed by Graham Vick. I think that Schaeffer exudes the right amount of sexiness and “innocence” for the role and sings it well.

  • Orlando Furioso

    I second the appreciation for the Glyndebourne DVD of Lulu. It’s a fine production (by no means traditionally representational, and quite thoughtful). The new Glyndebourne house is practically perfect: an ideal size, visually beautiful, comfortable, lovely surroundings, flawless acoustics.

    I join Henry Holland in wondering what the justification is (not to mention how permission was obtained) for a “new realization.” Berg composed Lulu complete, first note to last, and it could have been published complete in piano-vocal score upon his death, had non-musical factors not intervened. Some of the orchestration (which does NOT mean creation of pitches or rhythms, only their coloring) of Act III needed to be supplied, and this Cerha has done in perfect style. “Realization,” however, suggests recomposition, and this leaves me apprehensive.