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Lulu in pieces - directed by Marlene Monteiro Freitas

Vienna: Wiener Festwochen, 02.06.2023

Berg: Lulu

Anne Sofie von Otter, Bo Skovhus, Vera-Lotte Boecker, Cameron Becker, Francisco Rolo, Henri "Cookie" Lesguillier, Ina Wojdyła, Joãozinho da Costa, Kyle Scheurich, Nina Van der Pyl, Rui Paixão, Tomás Moital. musical director Maxime Pascal. stage director: Marlene Monteiro Freitas. ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien

picture by ©Monika Rittershaus

Alban Berg's opera Lulu, staged by Portuguese choreographer Marlene Monteiro Freitas, premiered in Vienna this June. This is the most daring musical theater event of the Vienna Festival, which celebrates the heterogeneity of the contemporary theater scene every spring. Under the direction of French conductor Maxime Pascal and supported by the infrastructure of Theater an der Wien, the show's co-producer, Monteiro Freitas transforms Lulu into the perfect laboratory for her particular choreographic language.

Indeed, to call this Viennese Lulu musical theater is a half-truth. Monteiro Freitas, accepting her first commission as an opera director, reads the opera from the perspective of dance and composes an entire choreography for Berg's score, and thus the whole becomes more of a dance theater evening. The singers, who also dance, interact with an ensemble of dancers who move ceaselessly around the stage.

The result is an accumulation of stimuli that sometimes seems too cluttered, as is often the case when the care of the opera scene is left to choreographers (the opera-savvy Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, for example, often runs into this obstacle). Also contributing to the saturation of the stage is the intriguing arrangement of the orchestra, positioned on a level above the stage and in constant interaction with the performers.

In Monteiro Freitas' proposal, however, the overload makes way for dramaturgical intelligence. The choreographer sees Lulu as a somber zoological spectacle – echoing Wedekind and Berg; both the play and the opera are introduced as such by a tamer in a brief prelude. The show consists of the following: a number of men ruin their lives for the possession of a woman. The conductor and orchestra act as voyeurs from their elevated position above the stage, as if in an arena. The dancers, with their highly complex choreography of banal bodily actions and unnatural movements, embody the attributes of that expressionist femme fatale Lulu, barren, strange and fragmentary.

In this complex choreographic web, which works hand in hand with clowning, the singer-performers have little to do. Monteiro Freitas refrains from staging the text, so that the action of the opera is lost in the folds of the dance. However, the exceptional cast of singers, led by Anne Sofie von Otter as Countess Geschwitz and Bo Skovhus as Dr. Schön, ensures that Alban Berg's ill-fated score is given its due. The star of the evening was undoubtedly Vera-Lotte Boecker, a stable and radical Lulu in the role's indomitable high notes, who was also interpretively convincing, as was tenor Cameron Becker with his clear and precise timbre. The two young singers succeeded in countering the experienced voices of the Mozartians Skovhus and von Otter with a personality of their own.

The ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna deserves special mention, led through Lulu's adventure by Maxime Pascal, who was in the spotlight at all times. His interpretation of the opera's epilogue, attentive to the echoes of Gustav Mahler's symphonism that permeate the score, was particularly moving. Accompanying this postlude was a disturbing choreography. A giant doll, embodied by one of the dancers wearing a doll mask and dressed in white like a bride, moved eerily around the stage. The uncanniness of its movements had already been decisive for Monteiro Freitas' choreography during the performance: it is a mixture between mechanism and senselessness, perhaps a kind of disturbed appeal of the organic. The puppet, in fact, tries in vain to free its silenced arm, tries, so to speak, to grow out of its handicap, out of its mutilation. She is accompanied by an equally sinister figure, obviously the groom, dressed in black and wearing a hat reminiscent of the Wanderer. Slowly it becomes clear that he is working on the doll. Like a tailor, this second dancer is constantly sewing on it as on a piece of his creation. In vain, one thinks, he tries to get her ready for his fantasy.

signed: Schattenhaar

Bayreuth, June 2023

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