Alban Berg’s Lulu has a pretty eventful career, with her three husbands, lesbian lover, menagerie of murderous admirers, and eventual violent death at the hands of none other than Jack the Ripper. It is a shame that Christof Loy, director of the current production at the Royal Opera House, doesn’t see fit to show us any of it. The set – such as it is – and costumes are resolutely monochromatic and the singers stump on and off as if they could be anybody. Lulu is the ultimate femme fatale: Eve and the serpent combined, a bringer of havoc and corrupter of not just men’s souls. It is difficult for Agneta Eichenholz to convey even an iota of this when she is stuck in front of a blank wall in an office dress.
The intention may have been to concentrate the audience’s attention on Berg’s extraordinary music, with its palindromic structure and 12-tone system. Antonio Pappano, as is his wont, conducts flawlessly, and the sheer volume of sound is in itself almost overwhelming even as it underlines the listless lack of action on stage. Even before the first interval, twin-set wives were elbowing slumbering husbands in their porky ribs as rumbling snores became audible in the orchestra stalls: it gets warm down there at this time of year.
Michael Volle stands out in his dual roles as Dr Schon (Lulu’s one true love) and the Ripper. Volle is able to conjure strong vocal characterisations from the void, and Jennifer Larmore makes a decent fist of Countess Geschwitz.
If you follow the example of the slumbering hubbies and give your eyes a break, you can do so in the knowledge that you’re not missing much. Mercifully the BBC are broadcasting it on Radio 3 on July 4th rather than putting it on telly.
Lulu is playing in repertory at the Royal Opera House until 20th June 2009.