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Opera in het park: Lulu

Dutch National Opera

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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

William Kentridge takes on Alban Berg's iconic femme fatale

Lulu. Meet her, and she’ll drive you crazy. Marry her, and she’ll drive you to your death. For the first time, Dutch National Opera presents the complete version of Alban Berg’s breathtaking opera about the ravishing femme fatale who in a dramatic finale comes to her own violent end. Using colourful instrumentation and great variety in musical form, Berg created an irresistible masterpiece.

Director William Kentridge – who featured in last year’s Holland Festival with Winterreise – took the inspiration for his staging from the silent movies of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The cast is led by Mojca Erdmann, in both voice and appearance the perfect Lulu.

Dutch National Opera presents the complete version of Alban Berg’s opera Lulu for the first time in National Opera & Ballet, in a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera New York and English National Opera. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra takes its place in the pit.

Alban Berg wrestled with Lulu his entire life, leaving it unfinished at his death in 1935. Friedrich Cerha (b. 1926) completed the orchestration of the third act only in 1979. Until then, only the first two acts were ever performed, with segments of the Lulu Suite as a conclusion. Although the musical motives are based on a single twelve-tone series, the instrumentation is colourful and there is a great variety of musical forms. As the rhythm of the vocal lines closely follows that of speech, the text comes across as very natural. One of the highlights is Lulu’s provocative song Wenn sich die Menschen um meinetwillen umgebracht haben.

The story is drawn from two plays by Frank Wedekind about the attractive young dancer Lulu, who uses her charms to conquer and destroy. All men – and the occasional woman – desire her, but whoever marries her is faced with a death sentence. Guilt or innocence? That is the question. With each man, Lulu climbs the social ladder. She is cold and calculating, but also an easy prey for others. In the middle of the opera Berg includes music for a silent film that depicts Lulu’s demise after she has murdered her husband Dr. Schön. The dénouement at the end of the third act – Lulu has descended into prostitution – is sensational.

Conductor Fabio Luisi and director William Kentridge both make their Dutch National Opera debut. Mojca Erdmann appeared previously at Dutch National Opera as Blonde in Die Entführung aus dem Serail. In both voice and appearance, Erdmann is a perfect Lulu.
The South African artist and filmmaker William Kentridge was inspired for his staging by the silent films from the 1920s and ‘30s, the time in which Lulu was composed. In 2012 he was the guest of the Holland Festival with the chamber opera Refuse the Hour.

BIOGRAPHIES

The Austrian composer Alban Berg (1885 – 1935) was, with Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, a member of the Second Viennese School. He produced compositions that combined Mahlerian Romanticism with a personal adaptation of Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique. Today, Berg is seen as one of the most prominent and influential composers of the 20th century. Being more interested in literature in his younger years, Berg did not start to compose until he was fifteen years of age. He had had little formal music education before he became a student of Arnold Schoenberg in 1904, at the age of 19. He studied counterpoint, music theory and harmony at first, before moving onto his composition lessons a few years later, in 1907. His student compositions included five drafts of piano sonatas, which eventually culminated in his first Piano Sonata Op.1, one of the most formidable 'first' works ever written. Berg studied with Schoenberg for six years until 1911. In 1913, the premiere of two of Berg's five Altenberg Lieder, aphoristic poems by Peter Altenberg set to music, caused a complete scandal. After serving in the First World War between 1915 and 1918, he continued work on his first opera, Wozzeck, which was premiered in 1925 and brought him his first public success. Today, it's still seen as one of the 20th century's most important works. Other well-known Berg compositions include the Lyric Suite (1926), the Three Pieces for Orchestra (completed in 1915 but not performed until after Wozzeck); the Chamber Concerto (Kammerkonzert, 1923–25) for violin, piano, and 13 wind instruments, and perhaps his best known and most beloved work, the Violin Concerto 'dedicated to the memory of an angel' from 1935. Berg completed the orchestration of only the first two acts of his three-act opera Lulu before he suddenly died of blood poisoning in 1937. Although he had also finished the third act in short score, his widow Helen Berg imposed a ban on any attempt to complete the final act for a full performance. When soon after Mrs. Berg's death the complete opera was finally performed under Pierre Boulez in 1979, Lulu rapidly entered the repertoire as one of he landmarks of contemporary music.

William Kentridge (1955) is an artist and theatre maker from South-Africa, whose work is permeated by political interest. In 1976 he graduated in Politics and African Studies at the University of Witwatersrand. Between 1976 and 1978 he studied at the Johannesburg Art Foundation, where he subsequently taught for two years. In 1981 and 1982 he studied mime and theatre at the École Jacques Lecoq in Paris. He was one of the founders of the Junction Avenue Theatre Company in Johannesburg. In 1989 he made his first animation, entitled Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City After Paris. In 1992, Kentridge produced his first theatre project Woyzeck on the Highveld, a collaboration with the Handspring Puppet Company. He directed a well-received production of Mozart's Magic Flute in BAM in 2007, for which he also designed the sets and costumes. In 2010 Kentridge played the Metropolitan Opera in New York with a radical vision of Dmitri Shostakovich's opera The Nose. Later that year the Holland Festival in collaboration with the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam presented a short, multimedia performance entitled Telegrams from the Nose. In 2012 Kentridge was the guest of the Holland Festival with the chamber opera Refuse the Hour. Since his participation at Documenta X in Kassel in 1997 Kentridge's work has been shown at (solo) exhibitions all over the world. Kentridge has received many prizes in his career, including the Carnegie Medal in 1999 and 2004, the prestigious Kyoto Prize in 2010 and the Dan David Prize of the University of Tel Aviv in 2012. 


Dutch National Opera (DNO) is renowned for its diverse programming of both classical and modern operas and for the consistently high standard of its performances. Innovative productions, works especially composed for Dutch National Opera and a fresh approach to mainstream repertoire give renewed impetus to this superb art form and ensure its place in the future. With Pierre Audi initially as artistic director and now, following the fusion, as director of Dutch National Opera, the company has become a household name in the international opera world and every new production garners a high degree of interest. In 2013 DNO won the international Opera Award for the best production of the year. The company was founded shortly after the Second World War as a repertory company and later developed into a stagione company. This means that Dutch National Opera does not have a permanent ensemble and that one opera is staged per month on average. Guest soloists and separate artistic teams are engaged per production. Dutch National Opera does have its own choir, the Chorus of Dutch National Opera, comprising 56 members. The choir is considered to be one of the best in Europe and was nominated for the best choir performance of the year [International Opera Award] in 2013. For the majority of the productions DNO collaborates with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra|Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. The chief conductor is Marc Albrecht. Most DNO productions take place in the Dutch National Opera & Ballet; however, there are also performances in the Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg, Royal Theatre Carré, the Westergasfabriek and Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ. The degree of international interest in DNO’s opera productions has led to an increasing number of requests to stage DNO productions at leading opera houses and festivals abroad. Co-productions are regularly realised with celebrated companies such as the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Opéra national in Paris and the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is at the very pinnacle of the world’s ranking of symphony orchestras. Founded in 1888, the orchestra was hailed by Gramophone magazine as ‘The World’s Greatest Orchestra’ thanks to its unique, recognizable sound and stylistic flexibility. Most recent DNO appearances: Parsifal (2012) and Falstaff (2014).

Credits

music & libretto
Alban Berg
completion and instrumentation of act III
Friedrich Cerha
musical director
Fabio Luisi
stage director
William Kentridge
co-director
Luc de Wit
decor
Sabine Theunissen,
William Kentridge
costumes
Greta Goiris
lighting design
Urs Schönebaum
video
Catherine Meyburgh
production
Dutch National Opera
coproduction
The Metropolitan Opera, English National Opera
cast
Mojca Erdmann,
Lulu
Jennifer Larmore,
Gräfin Geschwitz
Rebecca Jo Loeb,
Eine Theater- Garderobiere/ Ein Gymnasiast/ Ein Groom
William Burden,
Der Maler/Ein Neger
Johan Reuter,
Dr. Schön/Jack the Ripper
Daniel Brenna,
Alwa
Franz Grundheber,
Schigolch
Werner Van Mechelen,
Ein Tierbändiger/ Ein Athlet
Gerhard Siegel,
Der Prinz/Der Kammer- diener/ Der Marquis
Katrien Baerts,
Eine Fünfzehnjährige
Helena Rasker,
Ihre Mutter
Virpi Räisänen,
Eine Kunstgewerblerin
Roger Smeets,
Ein Journalist
Peter Arink,
Ein Diener

This performance was made possible with support by