Unusually, this Zurich Opera production presents Berg’s incomplete two-act version of "Lulu", which premièred on June 2, 1937 in Zurich, adding performances of the "Variations" and "Adagio" from the concert suite as a coda to the work. It has the reputation of being surrounded by scandals. On the one hand, this is due to the dubious character of the subject, the man-eating ‘femme fatale’ which Berg had taken from Frank Wedekind’s two Lulu tragedies – "The Earth Spirit" and "Pandora’s Box" – combined into one opera libretto. On the other hand, Berg’s widow Helene had (for personal reasons) repeatedly refused to have the opera completed, which was unfinished when Berg died.
The score of Lulu derives its impact from its almost overwhelming sonic richness, as it ranges from Straussian full-orchestral density to pared-down cabaret-style instrumentation.
In the pit is Zurich’s music director Franz Welser-Möst who has developed sensationally since taking up this post and has to be one of the most versatile conductors on the interna-tional circuit. He has shaped the Chorus and Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House into an ensemble of exceptional virtuosity and their performance of Berg’s music is electrifying.
Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s production for the Zurich Opera, designed in cool art-deco style by Rolf and Marianne Glittenberg, received rave reviews when premièred in July 2000. Laura Aiken’s blonde-bobbed Lulu was hailed as a triumph, imbuing the character with a human individuality as well as a strong erotic charge. She radiates an animal magnetism and her gossamer voice conjures up myriad sound colours from plain speech to voluptuous vocalisation. Her performance has an undercurrent of immense sorrow that lends it unfathomable depth, the source of which is witnessed in the silent film in Act II. This normally shows Lulu’s arrest and trial for the murder of Schön, but in Bechtolf’s production it shows the trauma she suffered when she was raped as a child.
Aiken’s Lulu is a powerful pivot around which all the other characters rotate, their characters defined by their relationships with her: Rolf Haunstein as the vulgar athlete; Alfred Muff as a suave Dr. Schön, whose elegance disguises his lustful instincts; Steve Davislim as the idealistic painter; Peter Straka as the devoted Alwa; Andrea Bönig as the over-zealous schoolboy; Guido Götzen as the enigmatic Schigolch; and Cornelia Kallisch as the rather reticent Countess Geschwitz.