Major Operas | Lulu by Alban Berg | Modern Era
First performed as an incomplete work on 2 June 1937 in Zurich, this opera boasts a Berg libretto that is based on two Frank Wedekind tragedies: Erdgeist (‘Earth Spirit’, 1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (‘Pandora’s Box’, 1904).
Following the composer’s death, controversy arose as to the fate of the incomplete third act. Berg’s widow asked Schoenberg, Webern and Alexander Zemlinsky (1871–1942) to complete the opera but they all refused.
From this point on, she withheld all of Berg’s supporting materials. It was not until after her own death in 1976 that Berg’s manuscripts were finally released, at which point the third act was completed by Friedrich Cerha. Lulu’s revival took place at the Paris Opéra in 1979, under Pierre Boulez.
Berg’s opera studies the central character’s victimization through a series of choices and unusual events that begin to spiral downward following her marriage to Dr Schön. He is jealous of Lulu’s steady stream of lovers, who include the lesbian Countess Geschwitz and his own son, Alwa. When Schön responds to his son’s involvement by demanding that his wife commit suicide, she kills him instead and is arrested. Her subsequent escape leads to the streets of London, with Alwa and the Countess Geschwitz in tow, but her life as a prostitute is brought to an abrupt and bloody end when she unfortunately solicits one Jack the Ripper.
Just as in Wozzeck, Berg ties this work together with a number of structural devices that operate on a subliminal level, while his masterful orchestration ranges from the dense and lush to the stark cabaret style popularized by Kurt Weill.
Premiered 1937, Zürich (incomplete version); 1979, Paris (complete in three acts)
Libretto by the composer, after Frank Wedekind’s plays Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora
An animal tamer introduces the pride of his menagerie, Lulu the snake.
Dr Schön has arranged a marriage for his mistress, Lulu. The painter attempts to seduce her while painting her portrait. Her husband interrupts them and dies from shock. Lulu has married the painter. Schigolch (perhaps her father, perhaps her first lover) arrives. Schön tells Lulu he is getting married and must end their relationship. Schön reveals Lulu’s past to the painter, who kills himself. Lulu is determined to marry Schön. Lulu is a dancer in a show written by Schön’s son Alwa, who wants to compose an opera about her. An African prince offers to marry her. She refuses to perform when she sees Schön with his fiancée in the audience and orders him to break off his engagement.
Lulu has married Schön. He disapproves of her latest admirer, the lesbian Countess Geschwitz. Schigolch introduces two more, an athlete and a schoolboy. They hide when Alwa enters and declares his love. Schön drags Alwa away but he returns and offers Lulu a loaded revolver. All the admirers try to escape when Lulu fires into the ceiling. He urges her to...
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