It is difficult to credit anyone in particular for the birth of this operatic piece. Just like Lulu herself, this opera has many facets. Olga Neuwirth would be the most obvious one to credit, as she did most of the re-writing and re-orchestrating of Berg’s Lulu. But Berg himself took his inspiration from Wedekind’s play of the same name. So here we have a twenty-first century opera, based on another opera, based on a play. And somehow, it all works.
Taking place throughout the 1950s –70s the audience follows Lulu’s tragic life story. Injected with a hefty dose of modernity, Neuwirth deliberately chose to centre her opera on the civil rights movement and the African American community in the United States, which makes American Lulu full of subtle, yet powerful political statements. The mise-en-scène simply works, just as the choice of audio and video material helps to seamlessly transition from one scene to another.
Angel Blue makes a wonderful Lulu with great singing talent, although unfortunately she has a tendency to swallow the last syllable of some words. Jacqui Dankworth as Eleanor is an excellent match for Lulu’s strong voice, and a soothing voice of reason after Lulu’s rollercoaster of emotions. The lack of supertitles for the dialogues is a pity, and would certainly be appreciated by audience.
On the whole, Neuwirth’s take on Lulu is very successful, both in its orchestration and modernisation. The world of music needs more people like her: People who can be smart about making a statement and do so in a wonderfully engaging way.
Antonia Landi for Edfestmag