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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. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra led by Lothar Zagrosek takes its place in the pit.
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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 Lothar Zagrosek 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. 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.
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.