Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Lululations

I am writing this quasi-review of the latest DVD recording of Alban Berg’s Lulu in near-complete ignorance of the background particulars of this video beyond its provenance in the 2010 Salzburg Festival.  Before watching it, I had never heard of its leading lady, Patricia Petibon, and even now I had to consult the packaging credits for the specification of her forename and the spelling of her surname.  Its Schigolch, Franz Grundheber, I have been aware of for many years thanks to his appearances as Berg’s Wozzeck and Schoenberg’s Moses.  But as for the rest of the cast, the conductor, the designer, and indeed everything and everyone else involved except the good old Vienna Philharmonic (and the video director, Brian Large, whose work I know from countless opera videos spanning two-fifths of a century and whom I have always thought of as “The Irritatingly Ubiquitous Poor Man’s Humphrey Burton,” and who did not fail to live up to that epithet this time round [but any comparative critique of the techniques of directors of opera for television and video seems best postponed to a dedicated essay]) I had never heard ary a word about any of them.  What I am trying to make plain is that I have no established beeves to air or axes to grind with anyone involved in the production recorded on this video; that I am reviewing it simply in its capacity as the third and most recently recorded of the video records of Lulu that I have yet seen and heard and that when I say, as I am about to do, that it is by far the worst of these records, the beeves, bones, axes, etc. contained in that utterance are preeminently and indeed almost exclusively with Father Time and with his apparent failure to effect an improvement in the quality of the performances and productions of this opera in tandem with his augmentation of their frequency.  I’m not going to cherry-pick or adhominemize in my fault-finding; in these pseudo-pages you won’t find me Jack Horner-esquely ejaculating “Ah ha! I see that So-and-so is up to his usual tricks!” or taking issue with what So-and-so “was trying to get across,” because apart from the two already-noted exceptions I don’t know what any of the people involved in the performance and production recorded on this disc usually get up to or try to get across.  My beeves etc. will always be aired in the direction of the overall result, the proof-impregnated pudding, as it were—and hence, I hope, merit at least a modicum more of credibility than is deserved by the usual stage door-Johnish kvetchings and carpings of amateur reviewers.  So then, furtheradolessly: first to the performance, which may and indeed really must be divided into musical and dramaturgical registers, into an appraisal of how well the opera was played (i.e., bowed, blown, plucked, etc.) and sung, and an appraisal of how well it was acted.  And vis-à-vis the first of these registers I must admit I have little to complain about, but that may not count for much, suspecting as I do that I am a philistine’s philistine in this matter, in that—as with wine—I only really notice it when it’s really bad, and that otherwise I am completely and mindlessly satisfied.  (I say that this may not count for much because a fair number of singing performances—and wines—that I have found unendurable certain other tipplers of solid connoisseurial reputation have praised to the skies; even though one would have thought that the shortcoming that put me off—shortcomings on the order of triple digit-Hertzed errors in intonation and swoon-inducing bouquets of locker-room mildew–would have likewise put off any but the (s)tone deaf or tastebud-bereft.  In short, I am intimating that there may be a fair amount of emperor’s-new-clothism to the whole thing in both cases.)  Almost everybody played and sang just fine.  The first Lulu of the LP era, Evelyn Lear, had a tendency to shriek out every note above the upper limit of the mezzo range like a hysterical cartoon mouse, and Ms. Petibon had a bit of that going on, but mainly in certain of the spoken or Sprechstimme’d passages, passages in which she was not really required to sing; such that I am inclined to chalk up this fault more to bad acting (q.v.) than to bad singing.  In the roles of the Prince and Manservant, Heinz Zednik, formerly (i.e., ca. 25 years ago) the greatest buffo tenor worldwide [I should have mentioned him alongside Grundheber above, but fudge it], was clearly well past his prime, delivering all his lines in a crackly cackle; and it was doubtless with the aim of not taxing him overmuch that the third role buffo-tenor role, that of the Marquis Casti-Piani, was given to another, younger singer.  The Countess Geschwitz of this production, Tanja Ariane Baumgartner (with a three-unit sesquipedalian name like that she must surely be angling to be anacronymized as “TAB”), was probably the best I have yet heard.  “Plummy” and “smoky” are the words some would use in describing Frau Baumgartner’s voice; I prefer to say that it gratifyingly had more bottom to it than that of the other Geschwitzes I have known.  Established practice—doubtlessly taking a cue from Berg’s pragmatic specification of a single singer for both the Lulu and Geschwitz passages in the five-movement Lulu Suite—favors casting aging mezzos (e.g., Evelyn Lear in the 1980 Met production) in this role.  Frau Baumgartner seemed rather to be a contralto in the prime of her career, and this gave an extra dose of much-needed vocal gravitas and charisma to a character whom both Wedekind and Berg regarded as the true heroine of the piece.  Everyone else was vocally just fine—i.e., obtrusively neither superior nor inferior to his or her counterparts in the other two videos.  And the Vienna Philharmonic was certainly every bit the equal of the Met Orchestra and the London Philharmonic–but of course one would have been scandalized if it had not been so.  Now to the acting, into which I shall for convenience’s sake (i.e., because I am about to talk about a succession of individuated singer-actors) collapse the extra-vocal side of the casting, even though by rights it really belongs in the production-centered section.  And not to mince words or beat around the bush, when I write of “the extra-vocal side of the casting” I am in the main thinking of the extra-laryngial, extra-pneumatic physical qualifications of the leading lady.  And on this head, as on many of the others I have already remarked on, I have no complaint.  (“And yet you say this is the worst Lulu you have ever seen!”  Indeed I do.  Please be patient.  It is always wise to get the flattering bits out of the way first.)  Indeed, from a purely ocular point of view (sorry for the pleonasm, but after all, most so-styled points of view on record are anything but ocular!) Patricia Petibon may very well be the best Lulu yet known to me.  She looks younger than Julia Migenes and is prettier than Christine Schäfer, each of whom in her allocated day was certainly young-looking and pretty enough.  And given that even such an abysmal production of Lulu as the one recorded on this disc stars such a nubile-seeming beaut as Ms. Petibon, we may at least take some comfort in the thought that the physical specifications of the job-description of this role appear by now, in its eighth decade, to be more or less set in stone.   Seemingly gone are the days when a singer could be cast in this role on the strength of her vocal prowess alone, when Lulu could be played by a visibly middle-aged woman (e.g. Evelyn Lear) or a distinctly unattractive one (e.g., Anja Silja).  Please understand, dear gentle reader, that in celebrating the apparent extinction of the unyoung or unpretty Lulu I am not signaling the gratification of my personal eye-candy jones, but rather my approval of the apparent clinching of one register of correspondence between our empirical Lulus’ stage-presence and the character devised by Frank Wedekind and appropriated, with few substantial changes, by Alban Berg.  Please understand, DGR, that I am well aware, thanks to both the testimony of others and my own experience, that an unyoung or even ugly woman may be desirable or “sexy”; but it happens that the desirability or sexiness of Lulu the Wedekind-Berg character is of a sort in which the virtues traditionally conferred by age and ugliness can have no part.  At bottom Lulu is (in the animal tamer’s words in the prologue) an Unschuld, an innocent, a “green girl unsifted in perilous circumstance”; she neither possesses the savoir faire typical of a beautiful woman of a certain age nor acts in the crafty, calculated manner typical of such women.  Wedekind was most explicit in dissociating Lulu from the entire dramaturgical tradition of stage-managing female leads.  “Apart from an intrigue here and there,” he wrote in his prologue to Pandora’s Box, the second of the Lulu plays, “Lulu plays [homography entirely fortuitous, I swear!] an entirely passive role in all three acts [i.e., of this second play, corresponding to the second scene of Act II and the whole of Act III of the opera].” 

Why, then, do so many women cast as Lulu (including Ms. Petibon), despite their physiological qualifications to embody the ingenueish Lulu specified by Wedekind, play her as a soup-to-nuts string-puller, impart a malevolently knowing smirk to her every utterance and gesture?  There are, at seems, to me two answers to this question, or two causes of this deviation.  The first, and more efficient of these causes is zeitgeistial: in our time (and really, indeed, already by Wedekind’s time [Why, after all, would he have felt compelled to remark outside the text of the play that its heroine was not a manipulator if he could have taken it for granted that she would not be regarded as such?]) innocence is equated with powerlessness; we demand so-called strong female characters, and in our laserscopically incorrigible Baconian eyes there can be no strong female character who is not in the know about absolutely everything.  This, I say, is the more efficient of the two causes, because it is the one that prevails by default and can only be overridden by strong objective counterpressures from the object on which it imposes itself.  Such counterpressures are indeed abundant in the text of Lulu’s libretto.  But at least in the Anglosphere they are bound to be counter-overriden by another textual element that triggers a certain ineluctable Shandyian association with a vast and (at least in the Anglosphere) authoritative literature on the psychology of sexy women.  At the very beginning of her central aria, the “Lied der Lulu,” our eponym declares, “Although people have killed themselves because of me, I am not less valuable for that.”  The bare lexical profile of “a woman who can drive people [by default men ] to kill themselves” immediately pegs Lulu as a so-called femme fatale, a figure that for all modern Anglo-Saxons is always a vamp, a pouty, voluptuous, and transparently spiteful and worldly-wise shrew.  This sort of femme fatale is basically a film-noir figure, a creation of the immediate post-World War II years (note that Louise Brooks’s impeccable realization of Lulu as ingénue dates from the late 1920s), although I suppose its apotheosis was reached only long after the noir era proper, in Kathleen Turner’s character in the 1983 Carl Reiner-directed comedy The Man with Two Brains.  “I love to see the veins in your temple throb!” this harridan gloatingly screams into the face of her apoplectically jealous elderly millionaire lover, in full triumphal consciousness that the stroke she has just induced by making him unknowingly eat his favorite pet fish will prove fatal and make hers the fortune bequeathed to her in his will.  It is as this sort of figure that present-day dramaturges, audiences, and prospective Lulus alike are bound by default to see Lulu unless they have attentively read Wedekind’s plays and Berg’s libretto—and of course the fact that while singing the abovementioned central aria Lulu is holding a revolver with which she is about to kill her own husband does nothing to dispel such an envisaging.  With all these manifestly insuperable barriers to conceiving of Lulu as anything but an omniscient vamp so eye-burstingly obdurately in view, one feels almost wantonly pedantic in chastising Ms. Petibon for playing her as such a figure, and doubly so in pointing to specific moments in the opera that contraindicate such a portrayal.  Still, if nobody else will, I must, and so shall, as follows: one must note that immediately after shooting Dr. Schön, Lulu cries out, apropos of him in default of any other present gents, “The only man I have ever loved!”; an exclamation that immediately recalls her earlier declaration, in the “Lied der Lulu’s” first-act complement, a spoken monologue likewise addressed to the elder Schön, that “if there is anybody I have ever belonged to [Schön has just referred to her second spouse, the painter, as “your husband”—in other words, not only her possessee but also her possessor] it’s you.”  Then there is the tender sub-scene of II.i (occurring just minutes before the aforementioned “Lied”-cum-shooting episode) in which Lulu tells Dr. Schön that “your love for me” is the one thing that makes nonsense of the fact that she chose to marry him rather than vice-versa—in other words, that in a way he still wears the trousers in their marriage.  “And yet one must not forget that the gun-centered episode that eventuates in Dr. Schön’s death arises out of his jealousy over a congeries of adulteries of which some indeterminate but real proportion are not figments of his imagination.”  Indeed one must not.  But at the same time one must not mistake these adulteries for mediated manipulative expressions of Lulu’s erotic dissatisfaction with her husband.  They are, rather, immediate expressions of her appetites and of her inclination to please.  Although throughout the first half of the opera, Dr. Schön is the number one man in her life, Lulu genuinely enjoys coiting with other men—with certain other men, mind you, not all other men—and sees no compromision of her love for the fair doctor in the free indulgence of her volonté à baiser.  Thus, although her reception of the amorous advances of the painter in the first scene of Act I is hardly welcoming, by Scene II, she has clearly taken a certain shine to him as a f**kbuddy (albeit that she clearly still thinks he is more than a bit of a prat); for when he breaks off their foreplay to answer the door on the grounds that the caller might be his art-dealer, she remarks in a petulant aside, “Who cares if it’s the emperor of China?”  Here, Lulu resents the doorbell-ringer not (as worldly-wiseacres of every present-day sexual-political stripe would maintain) egoistically, qua diverter of the spotlight from her person, but merely selfishly, qua interrupter of her favorite contact sport.   Her appetitive attitude to the other men to whom we are introduced is rather harder to discern.  The schoolboy would appear to be the object of a genuine albeit minor crush chez lui.  The athlete she appears to be merely humoring in the hope of landing some sort of remunerative gig.  The oldster Schigolch, her other-styled father, she long ago coited with, probably in gratitude for his having raised her from the very gutter to the position of Alhambra Café flower girl in which Schön discovered her.  Clearly at a criminally precocious age she realized that her own body was the asset she both most enjoyed putting to use and had the most to gain from exploiting.  It is all so simple and yet so off-putting to our present-day gyno-bureau-sentimento-philic sensibilities.  When a supposedly desperate woman, supposedly endowed with every quality requisite to the management of the richest business enterprise or most powerful State in the world, is supposedly obliged to “sell her body” to “make ends meet,” we reach for our cigarette lighters with one hand and our handkerchiefs with the other.  But once such a woman has been raised above the level of a whore through marriage we expect her to put aside whorish things: we expect her to busy herself by overseeing some sort of complicated operation funded by her share of her trophy-groom’s capital—ideally some charitable concern patronizing oppressed women in some faraway downtrodden land, failing that a for-profit undertaking catering to the consumerist cravings of women ici-en haut.  If instead she chooses to while way every free moment coiting with every human being capable of pissing against a wall without prosthetic help—why, it must be at the behest of some ulterior motive, her resentment of her victimization by the patriarchal system being the most obvious one.  But at no point in her narrative trajectory does Lulu evince the faintest soupcon of resentment.  Even at the very nadir of her fortunes, when she has been reduced to turning tricks as a freelance London streetwalker, coition remains preeminently a recreation for her, something that she requires to be a source of fun.  After being taken leave of by her first client, an uptight, close-mouthed Bible-thumper, she exclaims in ironic exasperation: “He gave me such a thrill!”  And even more tellingly, she actually begs her third (and as fate would have it, last) client, Jack, to lie with her even after he has refused to pay her because she cannot give him enough change to cover his bus fare.  Then, as I said, there is the matter of her apparently unquellable desire to please all these men in her Lebenswelt, to make them feel that she genuinely likes them—as in fact she genuinely does.  Take for instance playful burlesque tease-dance in the first scene of the opera.  Admittedly the intended spectator of this dance, her first husband, the “Medizinalrat,” Dr. Goll, is either unconscious or stone dead throughout it.  Admittedly she employs it principally (or perhaps even solely) as a heuristic, as a means of determining whether he is alive or not.  And admittedly within seconds of learning for certain that he is dead, she is exhilaratededly exclaiming “Now I’m rich.”  But all of this is quite beside the point, namely that in tone and spirit the dance is completely and artlessly playful and devoid of spite.  As she launches into it she remarks that the doctor can “see her every move,” thereby intimating that it was a kind of domestic ritual chez eux, a ritual in which she appears to (have) take(n) genuine pleasure, despite the doctor’s avine seniority.  “Indeed, perhaps because of that seniority qua augur of her imminent inheritance of a great deal of money.”  Now, now: there is absolutely no evidence for this in the libretto.  From her delight at being suddenly enriched by the doctor’s death it by no means follows that she was looking forward to that death.  Something that by every means follows from that delight is that she did not love the doctor, but one assuredly can be unenamored with someone without actively, determinedly wishing him harm.  One can, indeed, be generally well disposed to someone with whom one is unenamored.  That Dr. Schon is the only character in the opera that Lulu loves is undoubtedly true, but it is no less undoubtedly true that she likes all the other characters most of the time, that liking is her default disposition to other people.  Those who mistake this unloving amiability for spitefulness and accordingly blame Lulu for it are holding her to a standard to which she is patently incapable of conforming.  Active, dedicated hatred no less than active, dedicated love requires a solid, well-developed subjectivity, which in turn requires a self-reflective, self-cultivating will—something Lulu does not possess.  In the terminology of the seemingly unavoidable famous American philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt she is not a person but a wanton, a creature incapable of caring what her will is.  She has desires aplently, but she lacks all trace of a settled disposition towards any of those desires (any, that is and of course, except her desire for intimacy with Dr. Schön, which she wants to make her dominant desire, even at the moment when she is killing him).  It is to this absence of a settled second-order volition Dr. Schön is essentially referring when he warns the painter “not to expect bourgeois values” from Lulu—for there is after all no greater monument to Subjectivity with a capital “S,” to subjectivity defined and subsumed by second-order volitions, than the morality of the eighteenth and nineteenth-century bourgeois class, Schön’s own class. “How ironic that he, the opera’s chief embodiment of bourgeois subjectivity, should end up conjoined with its chief embodiment of subjectivity’s antithesis.”   No, that is not ironic but merely pathetically fitting, for Lulu’s allure to such full-fledged bourgeois subjects as Schön is partly (I shrink from saying “prevailingly”) founded on her freedom from second-order volitional constraints.  What is ironic is Schön’s invocation of bourgeois standards of behavior to Lulu after they are married—his insistence to her that because they are now “joined together as one” and she—unlike his present self (in contrast to his past self, who could not resist Lulu’s attractions during his first engagement)—cannot manage to make her sexual conduct express this indissolubility, it is her obligation to kill herself, to actualize the “till death do us part” clause of the marriage contract.  And it is in the light of her inability to understand, let alone embody, consistency of conduct that we must see all her acts of pitilessness, of which Schön’s murder is notable only because it is the most spectacular.  “If,” her killing of him implies, “one of us must die for the sake of some completely nonsensical obligation to be sexually faithful to each other, it is going to be you, because I am never going to see such fidelity as reasonable in any sense.”  Her unrepentant spurning of Geswchitz in Act III is motivated by exactly consubstantial considerations.  To Lulu’s recent avoidance of her the Countess incredulously protests, “Have you forgotten your avowals of passion to me?” convinced like Dr. Schön as she is that certain things said at one moment are meant to dictate one’s conduct at subsequent moments.  No, Lulu certainly has not forgotten those avowals, but she assuredly has failed to grasp their distinctive essence as avowals, as promises of future actualization of the passion referred to in them.  Or perhaps “failed” is not quite the right word here.  For Lulu accompanies her off-brushing of the Countess with the following diagnosis of sorts: “You have too much brain for a woman and not enough brawn for a man.  That’s why you’re insane.”  Here, in implying that she herself has just enough brain for a woman (and hence less than enough for a man), Lulu may seem to be putting herself forward as just another hair-twirling, bubblegum-popping, “Don’t mind dumb little me”-insisting feminist bugbear.  But a little reflection on the parallels between Geschwitz’s conduct and Schön’s goes to show that Lulu is doing something a bit more complicated than that.  Dr. Schön had enough brain for a man, and look where it got him—worked up into a homicidal frenzy by his obsessive meditation on the idée fixe of his wife’s wedding vows.  But luckily up to a point for him, he had the brawn (not to mention the weapons permit) to compel others to acknowledge the legitimacy of his obsession.  (One thing that Lulu apparently really has failed to see is that she owes her survival to her own possession of masculine brawn sufficient to have allowed her to wrest the gun away from Schön.)  The Countess with her masculine-proportioned brain is likewise obsessed over a single thing Lulu once said, but unfortunately she is too physically weak to elicit anything but scorn for her obsession from her beloved.  This is why she is insane—because she lacks the brawn to underwrite her obsessions as sane.  If and only if she were a man, says Lulu, she would be acting rationally in the eyes of the world—albeit completely irrationally in a categorical sense.  In Lulu’s view, having a bigger brain, a mannish brain, does not necessarily make a person more rational—more sensible, more prudent, more attentive to immediate self-interest—but merely more rationcinative, more prone to ruminating obsessively over abstract ideas like chastity and fidelity.  Something nearly too much of this.  The aggregated upshot of the four things I have been discussing for the past thousand words or so—Lulu’s undiscriminating enjoyment of sex, her de facto good natured-ness, her wantonness, and her well-thought-out a-philosophical, anti-ratiocinative worldview—is that the only negative emotion, or rather emotional habitus, that an interpreter of Lulu need concern herself with is exasperation, the kind of irritation (and only irritation) a person evinces when being pestered not for the first time about something that she regards as inherently silly or trivial.  The instant such an interpreter switches from exasperation to, or alloys exasperation with, any other negative passion—be it spite, rage, or Schadenfreude—she is getting the part wrong.  And again it must be stressed that this exasperation should be the exception rather than the rule, that it should crop up only on the occasions already mentioned and the two or three others in which Lulu finds herself backed into a corner (e.g., the episode in which the Marquis de Casti-Piani is pressuring her into joining the staff of the Egyptian brothel).  Otherwise she should be uniformly, uninterruptedly sunny and frolicsome.   Of the three Lulus I have seen, only Christine Schäfer manages both to twig this combination of good cheer and exasperation and to segue from the one emotional habitus to the other at appropriate moments.  One sees her mastery of the essence of the role from the very beginning, in the flirtatious smile with which she accepts the apple proffered to her by the animal tamer, right up until the end, when amid the wretched squalor of her streetwalker’s existence she can barely stifle the giggles reflexively elicited by the Professor’s mute and po-faced efforts to shush her; and she handles the episodes of exasperation with comparable aplomb; when, for example, Dr. Schön is haranguing her about the organic indissolubility of his union with her, she closes her eyes and remains standing perfectly still, as if toughing out some excruciatingly painful medical procedure.  Julia Migenes would appear at least to have an inkling of the combination, but her physiognomy is too unsubtle and inflexible for this awareness (if it is actual) to come fully through.  For example she seems to be having an appropriately good time during, the early part of the painting scene and her first interview with Schigolch, but her merriment is expressed mainly in her bodily movements (e.g., dancing and gamboling about)–on her face, she is content to sport throughout these episodes a single smirk that may as plausibly denote mildly acrimonious scorn as high spirits.  (Perhaps the intention was to make Lulu the embodiment of a different feminine archetype from the vamp, that of “woman as enigma.”  If so, it was badly misplaced.  Lulu is not in any sense an enigma: one should never be in any doubt about what she is thinking and feeling.)  As for Ms. Petibon, she treats the entire opera as one big vampfest: at every moment she is either reveling mirthlessly in the ineluctability of her handhold on the huevos of the remainder of the dramatis personae or howling with atavistically sanguinary fury at some directorially interpolated (q.v.) challenge to that hold.  Throughout the performance, one finds it impossible to imagine why anyone would feel anything for her but a mixture of fear and disgust, let alone actually become infatuated with her.  While no other member of the cast of the Salzburg production traduced the essence of his or her part as stridently as Ms. Petibon did hers, not one of them deserved the operatic equivalent of an Oscar either.  Michael Volle’s Dr. Schön was insipid but appropriately solemn and stern; Frau Baumgartner’s Geschwitz was insipid but appropriately solemn and glum.  Thomas Piffka seemed sensibly to have modeled his Alwa on David Kuebler’s admirable Glyndebourne interpretation of the character as a timid, fashionless dweeb only to stretch and swell the dweebiness beyond the limits of plausibility and likeability alike.    Thomas Johannes Meyer as the Acrobat was much better than the callow and robotically stiff Lenus Carlson in the Met production but also greatly inferior to Donald Maxwell’s magisterial Glyndebourne acrobat.  Wedekind conceived of the acrobat as the true villain of the second play, as the epitome of crassly self-interested petit-bourgeois philistinism, and Maxwell made him seem exactly that by wolfing down his caviar with real gusto during the casino scene, shamelessly thrusting forth his paunch and chin in unison while bewailing his factitious sufferings on Lulu’s behalf, and literally spitting out his self-righteous denunciation of Alwa as a “snot rag.”  Meyer, in contrast, diminished the character’s dramaturgical stature by playing him as a more or less good-natured and harmless rogue from the old comedy, as a minor irregular humorist.  Speaking of irregular humorists,  the character of Schigolch really is one—a major not a minor one—and therefore needs to be played with plenty of swagger and panache—swagger and panache much enfeebled in their expression by the infirmities of old age, to be sure, but always in evidence.  It was therefore saddening to see Franz Grundheber doing almost a walk-through of the part.  He didn’t even do a convincing job of making Schigolch seem old—hardly a stretch for a septuagenarian, one would have thought.  His Schigolch came across as just some vaguely seedy dude who was vaguely happy to be along for the ride.  Perhaps after playing someone as august and impassible as Moses Grundheber had gotten it into his head that Schigolch was a little beneath his dignity.  The only member of the cast who brought a welcome touch of something absent in her predecessors’ portrayals was Cora Burggraaf in the two trouser roles of the schoolboy and the groom.  With her long, unruly blond tresses and unliddable saucer-sized eyes Ms. Burggraaf looked like the young (i.e., mid-90s) Elen DeGeneres and brought a properly tomboyish rough-and-tumble hyperactivity to both parts.  (Patricia Bardon in the Glyndebourne production was also excellent, but in her case, probably owing more to her physique than to her irreproachable acting, one never quite forgot that these two male adolescents were being played by a full-fledged woman.)

Now at last I come to the production, under which rubric I subsume (for want of proper schooling on how the various duties of director, set designer, upmaker, and costume designer are apportioned among the behind-the-scenes personnel involved in the complete staging of an opera) the costumes, the sets, the props, the makeup, and the various bits of stage business the actor-singers get up to (for vis-a-vis this last item I assume—perhaps unfairly—that the directors of operas, unlike their counterparts in the movies and to a lesser extent the unsung stage, do not allow much if any ad-libbing).  Ms. Petibon’s disfigurement of the leading role aside, I could easily have put up with all the shortcomings in the Salzburg performance that I have so far mentioned; indeed, even with that disfigurement tacked on, given that Julia Migenes’s realization of the role was far from perfect, the Salzburg performance might very well have ousted the Levine Met performance from its second-place perch in my ranking of the three that I have so far seen.  But the whole dash-blamed thing is earmarked for the rubbish heap by the production.  Needless to say, this production is one of those that seek to give the impression that everything is taking place as nearly as possible to ten seconds from now, one of those in which not a shoelace or handbag-strap of less than present fashion-year vintage can be worn or carried, and in which everybody must be shown busying himself or herself with some piece of gadgetry—a segue or a wee or an I-pad–utterly unknown to the uptight Biedermeiers or Victorians or Georgians (in either the eighteenth- or the twentieth-century sense) who constituted the show’s original audience.  Perhaps not quite needless to say, I am generally averse to such productions, and in the exceptional case of Lulu my aversion receives sanction from the composer-librettist.  Most composers and librettists have been content to leave even the broadest specifics of staging to the opera houses, such that not even the very first production of a given opera can claim to be authoritative, and that at least from a score’s-eye point of view the present-day would-be producers of an antique opera are entirely within their rights to use whatever scenery, costumes, and props strike their fancy.  If someone chooses, as someone indeed has done, to set The Abduction from the Seraglio in the mansion of a late twentieth-century oil tycoon crammed full of electronic paraphernalia, then whether one likes it or not, there is not much one can say on Mozart’s and Bretzner’s behalf in favor of a more traditional staging in an Ottoman-era pasha’s palace bereft of any accoutrement of more modern manufacture than an oil lamp, because the score of The Abduction does not specify what Selim’s palace is supposed to look like or with what sorts of props it is to be cluttered.  Berg’s score for Lulu is in contrast almost fussily detailed and specific about how people, rooms, and objects are supposed to look.  Admittedly it is not evenly fussy: we are told nothing of the architectural-historical provenance of the painter’s studio, nothing (most of the time) of what Dr. Schön and his son Alwa are wearing.  On the other hand, we are told that the animal tamer is wearing a cinnabar-red tailcoat, that the painter’s studio is furnished with an ottoman draped in a tiger’s skin, that in the first scene Lulu is dressed in a Pierrot’s costume, and that Dr. Schön’s drawing room dates from the German renaissance.  Conceptually (if not necessarily financially), the smoothest and least perverse way of accommodating such a welter of desultory detail is to presuppose an early twentieth-century setting and fill in the gaps naturalistically with the obvious bric-a-brac of the period—with three or four-button three-piece business suits for the Schöns in the studio scene, white ties and black tailcoats for them in the theater scene, a dormer-windowed garret for the painter’s studio, and so on.  In any event, leaving out the cinnabar tailcoat and the tiger skin and so forth is not an authentic option.  Such being the case, of the three productions I am familiar with, my favorite ought by all rights to be the Met one, the only one that both adheres faithfully to Berg’s stage directions for setting and costume and seamlessly integrates its own interpolations into this mise-en-scene.  And yet it is only my second choice.  My first choice is the Glyndebourne production, which simply leaves out most of the props and scenery Berg asks for, replaces many of the others with things of its own invention, and costume-wise serves admirably as a time capsule of the fashions of the micro-epoch of its staging, the mid 1990s.  In this production as early as the prologue one notices deviations from the score:  the animal tamer is dressed not in a cinnabar red tailcoat but in a blue lamé dinner jacket, as if to make him seem more like a Vegas emcee than a ringmaster in an old-fashioned circus, and Lulu is wearing not a Pierrot’s costume but a long-sleeved green T-shirt and green snakeskin trousers, by flagrant way of giving point to the animal tamer’s designation of her as “the serpent.”  (I have already mentioned the animal tamer’s handing her an apple, which of course ties in nicely with Lulu’s possession of the alternate handle of “Eva” [i.e., Eve] but is unfortunately, and like the serpent costume, an interpolation.)  And in place of Berg’s suite of full-blown tableaux, which of course in any traditional opera house must be erected and broken down in full at the beginning and end of each scene, this production opts for a single two-tier wooden set with no backdrops (or curtain), and indicates changes of scene by simply dimming and re-brightening the lights.  I prefer this production to the Met one for two reasons.  The first is mainly technical and negative: namely, that despite its many omissions and modifications there is very little about the Glyndebourne production that positively contradicts either the spirit or the letter of Berg’s Nachlass.  From a technical point of view, a production that mimicked the Met’s but included all the splendid performances of the Glyndebourne festival’s would have been preferable, but ultimately none of the things that are missing or different in the Glyndebourne production are of a kind to make or break one’s estimation of it.  Sure, Lulu in a Pierrot costume would have been nice, but what apart from certain charming but ultimately dispensable echoes of Berg’s teacher Schoenberg’s atonal signature work Pierrot Lunaire is perforce jettisoned along with it?  And the set, for all its spartanness, at least includes almost all the structures requisite to the execution all the utterances and movements specified by Berg: it includes, for example, a front door through which Alwa, Dr. Schön, Schigolch, and the police can make their entrances, a flight of stairs about which Schigolch can kvetch as he stumbles down them, and a within-doors door behind (or [admittedly annoyingly enough] beneath) which Lulu the painter’s widow can withdraw to change her clothes and Lulu the prostitute to be alone with her clients.  Most of what it omits can be left to the imagination: for example, one does not mind overmuch that Schigolch is treading on bare wood as he gushes about the lush carpets into which he is supposedly sinking his feet.  (Admittedly the absence of flat vertical surfaces does exact one unreasonable act of imaginative calisthenics: in the final scene we must imagine that Lulu’s portrait is being “hung on the wall”—as the dialogue on its own makes clear—even as it is being nailed to the floor. [George Perle complained of an identical makeshift in the Paris premiere of the complete Cerha version, which inexcusably set the last scene in a (wall-less) public toilet.])  My second reason for preferring the Glyndebourne production is (sorry if this sounds pompous) philosophical and derives from such truth-content as Lulu possesses, or rather has come to possess, above and beyond Wedekind’s and Berg’s explicit intentions.  At bottom Lulu is not at all about modern humankind’s monomaniacal enslavement to sex (at least not qua sex); but rather about its bifurcated, schizoid enslavement to the irreconcilable forces of the so-called reality principle and the so-called pleasure principle, which in an industrially commercialized society are invariably mediated by the forces of production and consumption respectively.  The opera’s chief embodiment of the reality or productive principle is Dr. Schön, a high mucky-muck in every extant prestigious and profitable sphere of activity available in the city in which he resides.  He is at once the editor and publisher of a major metropolitan newspaper, a substantial shareholder in some apparently rather hefty corporations (hefty enough that the maintenance of his portfolio requires his hebdomadal personal presence at the stock exchange), and some sort of Ziegfield-scale impresario. (The lavish music-hall spectacle that Lulu walks out of is entirely his baby.)  And let us not forget that he (like his son Alwa) has a doctorate.  In what subject, you ask?  Who knows or cares: in the Wilhelmine-stroke-Franz Josefine German-speaking world, the Ph. D., far from serving as a byword for charlatanry and unemployability as it does in the present-day Anglosphere, imparted to its possessor an almost oracular—or indeed Moses-like-aura of unchallengability.  By all rights, such as rights are, Dr. Schön ought to be invulnerable to seduction, let alone destruction, by the likes of a social and economic nonentity like Lulu.  And yet he is seduced and ultimately destroyed by her.  Why?  Partly because the very nature of his professional activities places him in intimate (albeit by default purely voyeuristic) contact with that part of the world that productively speaking is at antipodes with his own.  The acrobat calls the Schöns’ paper a “scandal sheet,” an epithet that inevitably evokes associations with Murdockian tabloid-style journalism that are as misleading as they are germane.  What I mean is that we have no reason to believe that Schön’s paper is notably smutty--that it is not much closer to the German equivalent of the New York (or London) Times—in other words the F.A.Z. or Die Welt—than to the German equivalent of the Sun or National Enquirer (examples of which I am proudly unable to adduce); nor have we any reason to believe that the Schöns are cynically pedaling a product they despise or do not appreciate themselves.   The decades-ancient marginalization of newspapers to a de-facto prestige niche has blinded us to the fact that since at least the early nineteenth century journalism tout court has been an inherently prurient and sensationalist medium, a medium for which no gentleman in the old-school eighteenth-century sense can deign to cultivate an appetite.  But the Schöns for all their wealth  are not gentlemen in the old-school sense.  The elation that prompts Alwa unceremoniously to burst into the painter’s and Lulu’s house exclaiming, “Revolution has broken out in Paris!” is occasioned not by the event’s historical significance (revolutions being after all a dime a decade in France), nor even by the urge in circulation and revenues it promises, but rather by its spectacularity as a scoop, as an occasion for an unscheduled extra section featuring a big multi-column story with banner headlines and dazzling photographs.  Alwa’s Parnassian aspirations as a composer—a composer of operas, works for the stage, mind you, not of symphonies or string quartets, works for the concert hall—should be seen not as a back-turning retreat from the family business but as a surcharged embrace of it, as an attempt to purge the journalistic spectacle of its parasitic dependence on historical contingency, to generate events that are as awe-inspiring as revolutions without being at all sporadic or unpredictable.  Animated by the spirit of this purgation, Alwa breezily announces, “I think that for my matinee I’ll use electric light”—that’s new-school bright, steady, gorgeous, odorless, and dependable electric light; as opposed to old-school dim, ugly, shaky, shifty smelly gas light.  And for the human centerpiece of this electrically illuminated matinee he has chosen Lulu—the bright, steady, dependable (in attitude if not action), and above all young, positively history-less Lulu.  Both Alwa’s and Ludwig’s passion for Lulu must be seen as fundamentally utopian in orientation, as vectored towards a world in which the slate will have been wiped clean in all possible senses—morally, politically, economically, religiously, psychologically, sanitarily, and (last but not least) cosmetically.  Unfortunately, the inevitable flipside of Lulu’s unsulliedness by the history of production is her indissoluble association with a number of figures who are marginal to the productive mechanism in less salubrious ways.  Schigolch, like Lulu, has never worked a day in his life, but his life is much longer than hers and consequently blighted by decades of scams, cheats, and subterfuges, most of them too old to be useful by now (the “squeezebox” [Harmonika] Lulu asks after seems to hail form this realm of superannuated hoodwinkery).  The acrobat, on the other hand, although presumably fairly young, has taken refuge in a productively irredeemable, a dead-end, pseudoprofession.  There are no qualifying exams for being a circus performer, hence no means of proving to a would-be circus performer that he is unqualified for his calling and should seek employment in some other trade.  And so as long as the acrobat can find somebody to leech off of, he is free to indulge his pipe-dreams of becoming a world-famous circus performer and indeed of collaborating with the “greatest female gymnast of our time,” as he prospectively styles Lulu.  And finally, of course, the schoolboy is a productively problematic figure because he is not legally old enough to participate in the productive mechanism.  In virtue of its utter shiftlessness and heterogeneous, ragtag-and-bobtail composition, this Lulu-centered demimonde reminds one of Karl Marx’s catalogue of the classless riffraff who brought “that crafty roué” Louis Napoleon—the future Napoleon III—to power in France in 1852: “vagabonds, dismissed soldiers, discharged convicts, runaway galley slaves, sharpers, jugglers, lazzaroni, pickpockets, sleight-of-hand performers, gamblers, procurers, keepers of disorderly houses, porters, literati, organ grinders, rag pickers, scissors grinders, tinkers, beggars--in short, that whole undefined, dissolute, kicked-about mass that the Frenchmen style ‘la Bohéme.’”  Of course, in Marx’s view the 1852 French revolution was not a real revolution at all, and the bohemians were mere interloping placeholders for the true revolutionary class, the proletariat, who he fully expected to be back in the pilot’s seat and sailing full steam ahead once the clueless bourgeoisie realized how badly they had been had by that crafty roué and his crapulous henchpeople.  Little did he know that the bohemians’ power would only continue to grow and would indeed eventually eclipse that of both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, as it was already threatening to do by the time Wedekind wrote the Lulu plays, as it was in process of doing by the time Berg adapted those plays for the opera house, and as it had long since done by the time Graham Vick and company brought Lulu to Glyndebourne.  One sees at last, I trust, the philosophical grounds of my preference of the Glyndebourne production: if Lulu is trying to tell us that it is the bohemians—the unrepentantly unproductive—who have inherited the earth, then it is exigent that we should find its bohemian characters compellingly repellent embodiments of unrepentant unproductivity.  A scrupulously period-perfect production like the 1980 Met one will inevitably fail to make us find them such because the as-yet-merely-insurgent bohemians of the penultimate turn of the century retained many of the sartorial trappings of their bourgeois adversaries: they wore waistcoats and ties and floor-grazing dresses and so forth.  A brazenly present-set production like the 1996 Glyndebourne one, on the other hand, may properly disgust us with the bohemian characters by putting us in mind of the actual, utterly unreconstructed, debourgeoisfied boho types we have been forced to deal with in our own lifeworld.  The Glyndebourne Schigolch, Norman Bailey, sports a rainbow color-schemed knitted tam-o’-shanter of the type favored by a broad swath of post-1960s countercultural layabouts from deadheads to Bob Marley worshippers.  “Don’t Worry: Be Happy!” seems to be the message this Schigolch is broadcasting via this bit of headgear, both in affirmation of his happy-go-lucky ethos and in flagrant contradiction of the misery this ethos both feeds off of and propagates.  The Glyndebourne acrobat, Donald Maxwell, is togged out in a leather jacket, bolo tie, jeans, and cowboy boots.  He looks like nothing so much as the front-man of one of those obnoxious pig-swiving rockabilly revival bands that pullulated across the FM dial and the U.S. interstate highway system fifteen-to-twenty years ago.  Who among us over the age of thirty-five has not had to contend with the buffaloing braggadocio of such an asshole at some point—when patiently queuing for the restroom, or attempting to order a drink, or requesting clarification of an item on a restaurant menu?  But speaking of this amongwhominal “us”: in any modernizing production of Lulu worth its salt all freewheeling imaginative costuming of the bohemian characters must be counterpoised with an almost prosaic restraint vis-à-vis the wardrobes of the “straight” bourgeois personages, of the Schöns and Countess Geschwitz (who, though a lesbian, is certainly no club girl: recall that her penultimate piece of dialogue is a vow to apply to law school).  These figures must dress as formally, as tastefully, and as unflamboyantly, as any upper-middle class professional can still get away with dressing in this age in which everyone in every walk of life seems to prefer to dress (in Alistair Cooke’s memorable formulation) “like an unemployed plumber.”  For we must be able to tell them apart from their bohemian inferiors, and more subtle sartorial caste-markers (e.g., jeans worn without visible thongage or boxer elastic above the waistband) simply will not get the point across.  The Glyndebourne production does its absolute damnedest to make sure that we are so able.  Apart from the scene set backstage at a theater, when he wears a nattily conventional tuxedo with color-coordinated powder-blue bowtie and cummerbund, Dr. Schön is always seen in a two-piece single-breasted gray business suit which may or may not be partially concealed by a tan wool or camel’s hair overcoat depending on whether he is on his way in or out the door or not.  In the full, overcoat-including panoply, he looks irreproachably authoritative and official, as if he has just been called in from playing Henry Kissinger in Nixon in China; in his mere business-suited version, he looks like a man who might be required to report to a corporate board meeting at any minute, as though in the most leisurely case he is on an extremely hard-working holiday.  As for Alwa, although his juniortiy and nominally boho-affecting lifestyle preclude his being dressed in formal business attire, Vick & co. make sure that we can never mistake him for a true countercultural outtuner-cum-outdropper: like a young, tenure-track college professor, he favors corduroy blazers, button-up shirts, and twill slacks.  Then there is Lynn Harries’s hyper-patrician Geschwitz, who, with her long black dress, black tights and heels, and black sombrero-sized picnicking hat, looks like a newly widowed duchess (i.e., no mere countess) on her way to the Regatta or the Grand National.  How can one praise this toilette highly enough?  What a prosaic, shockingly undignified, petit-bourgeois b**l-d*ke does Frau Baumgartner’s baggy union suit make her Geschwitz seem by comparison!  But even she looks positively regal when juxtaposed with Michael Volle’s Dr. Schön.  The Salzburg designers seem to have gone out of their way to make him look simultaneously as preposterous and seedy as possible.  In no way is it possible to imagine this Schön’s being involved at present in any enterprise of even peripherally world-historical importance.  In all the non-backstage scenes he has on a gray blazer, an open-necked shirt, and—get this—an ascot knotted under the shirt’s collar!  Now, at no point in human history has a person of present consequence ever worn an ascot under his shirt-collar.  To the contrary: for the past three-fifths of a century the under-the-collar ascot has been a bysign for the most downmarket sort of senescent parvenuism, an indication that its wearer has derived his pattern of aristocratic bearing and equpage entirely from Gilligan’s Island’s Thurston Howell III.  Even the healthiest and most wholesome-looking specimen of middle-aged masculinity cannot slip an ascot under his collar without thereby silently declaring to the world, “Right!  I’m off for a little jaunt round the lagoon in my new yacht [which everyone knows to be a DIY hybrid of a ten foot-long john-boat and a catamaran sail],” without thereby presenting himself as fitter to co-star in a Hall and Oates video than in a purportedly world-class production of a Berg opera.  But if one subtracts the pink of health from such a sub-collar ascot-flaunting middle-aged gent and then adds a dollop of black mascara to each of his eyelid-pairs and a fistful of pomade to his hair (without, it should be added, spending much time combing it back down afterwards), why then one ends up with an altogether more horrifying figure—a sort of zombie pederast off to try his luck at the bar-elbow of the nearest charcuterie-cum-hookah lounge.  As such a hideously ridiculous mutation of Pantaloon does Volle’s Schön come across in, as I said, all scenes save Act I, Scene III.  And in that scene he hardly looks any better: his tux is self-evidently a 40-Euro rental donned strictly for the occasion, with down-turned collar and no cummerbund; one sees him literally and copiously sweating to get out of the thing, and, presumably, to slip into a more comfortably loose-fitting wife-beater and pair of tighty-whities.  I have already remarked on Thomas Piffka’s desecration of Kuebler’s Alwa through hammy hyperdweebism; here I may add that the desecration is retraced with pantographic fidelity by the costuming: in place of Kuebler’s button-ups, Piffka wears under his non-corduroy blazers a form-fitting T-shirt, the hem of which obligingly retreats from time to time to show off an inch or three of the tenor’s paunchy, pasty lower belly.  In short, whether knowingly or not, the wardrobe contingent of this production has managed to undermine, nay, obliterate, every trace of a hierarchically significant border between the opera’s high characters and its low ones.  But the costuming is really only the tip of the iceBerg (I swear I don’t look for these puns: they just sort of ambush me) of the Salzburg production’s traducement of Lulu’s essence and entelechy.  In its treatment of sets and stage business, this production really violates ground not even accosted, let alone touched, by its Metropolitan and Glyndebournean predecessors, and effectively treats the work as a sort of 5” x 8”bulleted list of helpful hints, almost after the manner in which the story of Aladdin is treated in Christmas pantomimes, or Milos Forman imagined Don Giovanni’s being treated in Emanuel Schickaneder’s (allegedly) squalid dreigroschen music hall.  To re-return to the very beginning: in the prologue the figure of the clown is omitted entirely.  In support of such a choice it might be argued that the clown’s is a mute role—that it is not only non-singing but also non-speaking.  In devastating refutation of this argument it might be argued that the clown’s is an instrumentalizing role, that it is he and not any member of the orchestra in the pit who is instructed to play the numerous cymbal and bass-drum strokes with which the animal tamer’s monologue is prefaced and punctuated.  In cinematic parlance, these clashes and thumps are diagetic: they are a palpable, materially effectual part of the world that is being depicted, and to resituate their point of origin in the orchestra, which lies outside that world, is to take as gross and wrongheaded a liberty with Lulu as one would take with On the Waterfront in reediting it to make Marlon Brando’s “I could have been a contender” speech into a voiceover.  Still, as appalled as I am by the omission of the clown, I have to admit that it is still small fry compared with what follows.  In the first scene the score describes the painter as standing before an “easel bearing Lulu’s not yet completely finished portrait.”  The size of the portrait is not specified, but because it has to fit on an easel it cannot be especially large—Mona- Lisan dimensions are probably about right.  We are not told anything about the style of the portrait either, but because we do know that it is Lulu’s portrait we can assume that the figure depicted in it is to bear some resemblance to Lulu as she is now dressed and posed on the platform that is said to be in the center of the room.  In the Salzburg production the painter is standing before the front or painting surface of a gigantic mural that is coextensive with the entire backdrop of the set.  This mural is dominated by a crudely stylized—indeed, elementary school art class-esque—representation of a woman with long red hair.  The figure is lying on her stomach with her head raised and her face—such as it is, two dabs of blue paint for eyes, one dab of red for a mouth, and a single pencil-stroke nose—turned towards the viewer.  She is clad in low-slung blue trousers and a midriff cum lower bosom-baring sort of wrap in lieu of a shirt.  On the other hand, Lulu herself, the woman who is ostensibly posing for this picture, is dressed in a white bra, a white scrim petticoat, white knickers, white garter-belted white stockings, and white angel’s wings—all in apparent inevitable homage to the terminally erection-deflating Lady Gaga, an anti-Lulu if there ever was one [and of course there have been many].  (Happily, Ms. Petibon has both a prettier face and a more curvaceous figure than Dame Gaga, so the complet is less off-putting on her.)  The sole trace of the presently attired Lulu in the mural is a much smaller figure in the foreground—a representation of a woman’s naked lower half as seen from the rear, which we know has something to do with the Lulu we can now see because its in-filled portion is starkly white and it is surmounted by a whoosh of lines that are instantly evocative of angel’s wings (if also of Marilyn Monroe’s famous upblown skirt—a rather clever synthesis if I do say so in the teeth of my  own polemic).  Needful to say and itemize, all these deviations from the score (as the reader may have noticed, I have been writing “score” even when referring to the composer’s non-musical instructions—this on the grounds that the score is where these instructions appear, cheek by jowl with the clef lines and note-heads.  But if decorum requires me to refer to all non-musical instructions as components not of the score but of the libretto, I shall be happy to do so.) make either incorrect sense or nonsense of several of the events of this scene.  When the Alwa in the score, immediately after entering the studio and just before visually “comparing Lulu with the painting” asks “Do I see aright?” we are meant to take it merely as a jocular change on “Fancy meeting you here!”: although presumably he has been forewarned of Lulu’s presence and the reason for it, he is still taken aback at seeing her dressed in this strange costume (which, we must remember is supposed to be a Pierrot’s costume, a version of masculine drag) and affects to wonder whether she is somebody else.  But when the Alwa in the Salzburg production visually compares Lulu with the painting—this painting of a woman who we know looks nothing like her or anyone else in particular—before saying “Do I see aright?,” we cannot but take it as a critical comment on the painting qua portrait, as a pithier and more tactful way of saying, “I can’t believe this is supposed to be a picture of you.”  More risible and disruptive are the consequences of the mis-presentation of the painting for Dr. Schön’s remonstration with the painter that “the hair” in the portrait “is all wrong.”  This remonstration is said in the stage directions to be made “with a noticeable intention not to respond to the preceding remark,” the preceding remark being Lulu’s request to Schön to “present my regards as a stranger [i.e., as someone who has never met her and never cares to meet her] to your fiancée.”  Schön has rightly taken Lulu’s request as an ironic expression of her jealous anger at his purported impending desertion of her for another woman, as well as of her incredulity in the possibility of such a desertion, and he wishes to show her that he is not fazed by either sentiment.  At the same time, because he is fazed by both he has to let off his aggressive steam in some fashion, and so he chooses the easiest, the least defensible target ready to hand, the portrait, and he opts for the easiest and least contestable register of criticism—the register of naturalistic verisimilitude.  “The hair’s all wrong,” he says, because he knows that the hair is both more than close enough for government work to being right and endlessly amenable to improvement.  And we in the audience pick up on all this—the nature of the criticism and its psychological motivation—precisely and only because we are afforded but the haziest postage stamp-sized of view of this portrait, a portrait that from our vantage point could either be a masterpiece or a piece of daubery.  But anyone getting his first glimpse of Lulu from the Salzburg production is bound to see the criticism not as an expression of Schön’s “intention not to respond” to Lulu, but rather simply as a spontaneous outburst of authentic philistinism bereft of any connection to the main dramatic line—this because first the painting aspires neither to naturalism nor even to being a depiction of its ostensible subject, and second,  the viewer can see the painting every bit as clearly as Schön can and has been staring at it for a good two minutes by the time Schön weighs in on its demerits; and hence, when Schön says that the “hair is all wrong” he is registering a complaint that the viewer must conceive of as either overlooking the painting's most egregious transgressions or completely missing the point of it, depending on whether he thinks it ought to have been a naturalistic representation or not.  In either case, the Lulu-innocent viewer will be incapable of seeing the remark as what it is—namely, a manifestation of a cultivated and intellectually subtle man’s efforts to master his passion for and anger at the woman he loves.  In fine and short, as presented in the Salzburg production, Act I Scene 1 comes across not, as it should do, as a laying of the principal psycho-physiological mines that will explode three scenes later, in Act II Scene 1, but rather as an unintelligible and apparently pointless preliminary to the painter’s and Lulu’s catch-me-if-you-can game.  Speaking of Act II, Scene 1, it is in this scene that we meet with the other significantly disruptive misuse of scenery by the Salzburgers (not that it is by any means their only other significant disruptive intervention, or even the most egregious one, but merely that the others are centered on dramaturgical elements other than scenery).  I am referring here to the entire scenic complex by passage through which several characters are required to make numerous mutually involved entrances and exits.  In the score, this complex consists centrally of an imposing staircase (which, as mentioned above, the Glyndebourne production manages to incorporate) plus an assortment of nooks distributed among various mutually distant bits of architectural fixtures and bits of furniture (all likewise convincingly included or faked chez Glyndebourne).  In the Salzburg production, the whole shebang or kit and caboodle is bundled into a single structure, a black plastic pyramid of none too prepossessing dimensions.  Each member of the supporting cast enters by poking his head and at most his upper torso out of a compartment built into this structure, and exits by withdrawing his back into the compartment.  For the best part of this scene Schigolch, the acrobat, and the high-school student are prevented from setting foot on the surface of the stage.  Accordingly, hardly any of the numerous physical high-jinks (or should it be high-jinkses?) the score requires can or do take place.  “These polished floors: nothing but cliffs, but traps!” Schigolch repines while supposedly descending a very long and slippery staircase but actually negotiating a piece of pure and none-too-tricky handwork—viz. opening the door of his cubbyhole.  Shortly afterwards, the acrobat exclaims apropos of the high school student, “This little fellow barely weighs forty kilos!” a remark that seems completely unmotivated given that the acrobat is not even touching the student, let alone carrying him as directed by the score.     

The remainder of the Salzburgers’ material transgressions is confined to the level of stage business, but these transgressions are no less material for all that, and indeed some of them are among the most production’s most egregious.  Take, for instance, the sub-scene of II.i involving Lulu, Alwa, and the manservant.  The central purpose of this sub-scene is to demonstrate the scope and power of Lulu’s charms through their interference with the manservant’s ability to perform his duties with that impeccable reserve and composure one takes for granted in domestics in the households of the rich and the great.  In the score, this purpose is conveyed almost too laconically, via a handful of questions and remarks by Alwa on the servant’s unhealthy appearance, the servant’s “blurting out” (SD) the remark that “one is only human too,” and the stage direction that while he is setting the table for Lulu and Alwa he is to gaze at Lulu and her portrait (now gracing Lulu’s and Dr. Schön’s drawing room) with a “disturbed expression.”  If the producer relies on these instructions alone, he can easily convey the misimpression—as the Glyndebourne production does—that the servant is merely suffering the prosaic occupational strain occasioned by working for and around people with explosively dramatic personal lives.  The Salzburg production certainly and creditably leaves us in no doubt as to the cause of the manservant’s distress.  But no one who has any amount of affection for Lulu can fail to be appalled by the means by which this production apprises us of that cause: the moment the manservant enters (for no seeming reason, as he is completely empty-handed, with no food or drinks to serve), Lulu reaches under her skirt, doffs her knickers (red ones, naturally) and tosses them over to him.  They land on his head; he removes them and begins running his fingers over them and sniffing them.  Then and only then does Alwa ask the servant, “What’s the matter?”—the first indication in the score that the man is upset about anything. The manservant’s palpation and olfaction of the knickers is certainly a distasteful enough spectacle in its own right, one whose repulsiveness is augmented by our outrage on behalf of Mr. Zednik qua buffo elder-statesman.  (Surely there is no reason why a comic actor should be expected to degrade himself any more than a tragic one).  But the real victim here is Lulu, who in being compelled literally to stoop to the lowest trick in the striptease dancer’s playbook of seduction, suffers the cardinal injustice visitable on this role, an injustice codified by George Perle in the diptych-half that remains the authoritative text on this work: “Above all, Lulu must never be made to seem common.  She is always ‘that ray of divine light.’  We must always see her through the eyes of those who desire her.”  Or, to recast this prohibition in the terms more familiar to the reader of this essay: Lulu must not be seen to be driven by a desire—the basest and most common of desires—to exert control over other people.  Only a woman who wishes to exert control over men’s wills feels compelled to tease them with favors, and only a woman who desperately wishes to control every man’s will can stoop to giving the lowliest among them the very knickers off her….  The manservant’s infatuation with Lulu—like the schoolboy’s, like the Countess Geschwitz’s, like the two Schöns’—is not supposed to be something that she has whipped up or takes any pleasure whatsoever in keeping in an up-whipped state.  It is, rather, something that has simply happened, in simple apodictic consequence of Lulu’s being her cheerful, youthful, beautiful self in proximity to someone else—a someone else less cheerful, youthful, and beautiful than she is.  A logical corollary of the Salzburgers’ misrepresentation of Lulu’s disposition to the manservant in the first scene of Act II is their much more consequentially misleading misrepresentation of her disposition to Alwa and vice-versa in the second scene.  But I cannot justly detail this misrepresentation without first getting in my two schillings’ worth of piss about the Salzburgers’ treatment of the interlude between the two scenes.  Berg indicates that this interlude is to accompany a silent film depicting Lulu’s arrest, trial, incarceration, hospitalization, and eventual liberation, and he supplies a fairly detailed scenario pairing specific visual-dramatic episodes with specific measures of music.  The score in no way hints that the film is optional, let alone proposes makeshift alternatives to it.  One might have thought that a production destined to be preserved for televisual viewing would be more than mildly eager to include it.  Yet of the three productions now preserved on video, only the Glyndebourne one includes a proper silent motion picture—and let it be said, a spectacularly realized one that allows the singer-actors featured in it ample scope for the accentuation and elaboration of their portrayals.  In this film we see, for example, Lulu exchanging a delightedly conspiratorial smile with Countess Geschwitz as the two of them swap their undergarments, and the acrobat loutishly slouching across the frame with his lower lip jutting forward in simian stroppiness.  The Met production, on the other hand—and not only disappointingly but surprisingly in the light of its otherwise scrupulous adherence to Berg’s instructions, opted to present a montage of still drawings—crude pastel-and-chalk affairs reminiscent of the improvised sketches of courtroom portraitists.  But at least the Met covered the interlude with something of visual interest.  The Salzburgers decided to treat it as just another scene-change coverer, and so the viewer of their video is regaled with three minutes of medium long-shots of the conductor and various sections of the orchestra waving, scraping and blowing away, together with the occasional shot of the empty stage, as if by way of rubbing in the fact that there is absolutely nothing going on right now during this performance of the most giddily hyperactive stretch of music in the entire orchestral repertoire.  Oh, I suppose they had their reasons for omitting the movie.  Perhaps they thought its inclusion too luxurious, too expensive, an indulgence for a one or two-off festival production.  But the Glyndebourne production was also a festival production.  I admit I am not aware of the comparative budgets of the two festivals, but I find it implausible that an event that bills itself as “the world’s preeminent music and drama festival” would find it harder to swing the inclusion of the film than would an event that can merely lay claim to being the UK’s preeminent festival for opera alone.  Perhaps they thought the film superfluous in the light of Lulu’s Act II, Scene ii spoken exposition of the events dramatized in it.  In that case, they forgot that Berg, although composing a full half-decade into the era of the talkies, specified a silent film, and, moreover, a silent film without captions, which he can have done only because he regarded the spoken exposition as an inalienable complement of the movie.  When watching the film, we are meant to be mystified not enlightened.  To be sure, the arrest. trial, and incarceration scenes are predictable enough as set modules: we know from Alwa’s closing line in II.i  that the police are on the premises, and where there are police there will be an arrest, and an arrest will usually be followed by a trial, and a trial will often be followed by imprisonment.  But beyond this point the causal logic of the episodes is opaque: the first-time viewer is bound to wonder, first, what are Geschwitz, Alwa, Schigolch, the high school student, and the acrobat doing on screen now that the trial is over?; then, why is Lulu being treated “more as an invalid than as a prisoner” [tr. George Perle]?; and why, finally does Lulu emerge from the prison dressed as the countess?  All of these questions are answered in the first scene proper, and most of them in the course of the above-mentioned Lulu-assigned non-sung passage, during the delivery of which we are clearly meant to be repeatedly exclaiming to ourselves in Archimedean delight, “So that was what that was all about!”  The omission of the film deprives the first-time viewer of the pleasure of these revelations and demotes the spoken passage to a seemingly digressive longueur that one is tempted to fast-forward past.  But why should the Salzburg Luluproduktionsmannschaft have given a proverbial monkey’s about whether any part of the opera looked or sounded as stimulating and integrally cogent as it was supposed to?  Clearly I have so far overlooked the most obvious and therefore most probably accurate explanation for their omission of the film: that it was the most natural course to take for any Luluproduktionsmannschaft who did not give a proverbial monkey’s about whether their production brought out the most evident beauties of the work, who approached the entire commission in an attitude expressive of “Let’s get this bastard on the skids so we can go work on protest theater.”  (Here they naturally make the money sign, rise, and make for the coke [sic on the lowercase cee] dispenser.)  But I mustn’t continue in this vein, the selfsame one I pledged myself at the beginning of this essay not to indulge in, viz. the vein of attributing motives and purposes to the  producer of the Salzburg Lulu video; and so let me close my animadversions on the three minute film-sized hole in this video by locking swords with the churl whom I declared my arch-adversary at that selfsame beginning, viz. Father Time, thus: I cannot forbear remarking how deliciously ironic it is that of the three visual documents of the three-act Lulu now available, the only one that omits the film entirely is also the only one to hail from the all-digital, post-cinefilmic pseudo-epoch, a pseudo-epoch in which everything requisite to the making of a film, apart from the labor-hours of the cast and crew, can effectively be had for free.
           
Now on to the Salzburgers’ II.ii-ic traducement of the Alwa-Lulu dyad.  Berg represents Alwa’s and Lulu’s duet at the end of II.ii straightforwardly as a session of foreplay to the long-deferred (at least from Alwa’s point of view) consummation of their de facto coupledom.  Lulu, we are told in the score, “pulls Alwa close to her on the couch”; Alwa “kisses her with great intensity”; Lulu “digs her hands into his hair” and “kisses him with deliberation”; and finally Alwa “buries his head in her lap.”  There is not the faintest hint of a suggestion by Berg that at any point during this episode Alwa is interested in anyone or anything other than Lulu.  It is true that he makes abundant use of the terminology of his vocation throughout this episode: he tells Lulu that “through [her] clothes he apprehend[s her] body as music,” then likens various parts of her body to various expressive musical indications—her ankle to a grazioso, “this charming swelling” (her breasts?) to a cantabile, her knee to a misterioso, and an unnamed part whose identity one can easily guess to “the fierce andante of desire.”  But these are after all metaphorical usages, and no person schooled in such usages gathers that a man—even a composer—who likens a woman’s ankle to a grazioso is evincing his preference of music to feminine beauty any more than he gathers that a man—even a gardener—who likens a woman to a red, red rose would rather keep company with a flower than with his sweetheart.  The Salzburgers would appear to be unschooled in such usages, for they preposterously transform the foreplay session into one of those composer’s brainstorming sessions one sees in so many of those autofellationary Broadway musicals about the makers of Broadway musicals: each time Alwa mentions a musical term, he scribbles something down on a sheaf of score paper, leaving Lulu to sit off to one side pettishly scowling at his neglect of her.  This whole tableau is of course sufficiently and indeed unprecedentedly objectionable on the grounds that it is not only not to be found in the score but also flagrantly contradicts and completely displaces the series of action that is to be found there.  But it might conceivably be redeemed if it could be made to jibe with those elements of the work that cannot be changed without effectively making it into an entirely new opera—much in the way that Tate’s King Lear is a different play from Shakespeare’s –and that indeed have not been changed in the Salzburg production.  I am talking somewhat opaquely about the balance of Lulu’s plot, the plot of the third act.  If Alwa were really devoted preeminently to his music, in this act we would see him continuing to compose while giving only perfunctory attention to Lulu, or perhaps we would even see him abandoning Lulu altogether and hence vanishing from the dramatis personae.  What we witness instead is his following Lulu into the demimondial slagheap of the gambling party in Paris and thence, in the final scene, to the squalid little garret apartment in London.  Of his musical history the only remaining trace is Casti-Piani’s one-time dismissive reference to him as Lulu’s “composer friend”; we certainly never see him concocting scenarios for “interesting opera”s and lighting schemes for impending premieres of those operas, as we did in the first two acts.  In short, the third-act Alwa hardly behaves like a man who loves his métier more than he does the woman in his life; to the contrary, he behaves exactly like a man who has renounced his métier for good for the sake of that woman.  Accordingly, it is nothing short of absurd to represent Alwa as an erotically apathetic artistic workaholic in the concluding seconds of Act II.  “So why,” you ask me, thereby forcing me to violate my taboo yet again (but never mind that, because it is so obvious a question that not to let it be asked and answered would smack of an imbecilic degree of obtuseness), “did the Salzburgers think it worthwhile to represent him as just such a type?”  I think they did it for the same reason they represented Lulu throughout the opera as a vamp—namely, because the zeitgeistial imperative to do so was well-nigh ineluctable.  Just as we intermillennials cannot stomach the portrayal of a(n obligatorily) strong woman who is not omniscient, we complementarily cannot stomach the portrayal of a(n obligatorily) weak man who is not impotent.  To be sure, even from the Berg’s-eye point of view Alwa is hardly a figure worthy of deification.  As the score presents him, Alwa is always a passive and usually an unwitting tool of the ascendant figures in his lifeworld—first his father, then Schigolch and the acrobat, then the Jungfrau Funicular Railway Company, and finally one of Lulu’s johns, the Negro, who bludgeons him to death.  Still, Berg’s Alwa has a certain tiny pesky anti-flaw, a certain confetto-sized speck of plate-iron in his pantywaist suit of cheesecloth armor, an anti-flaw which is bound to drive the intermillennial dramaturge straight up the back-bottom of his personal goat, and whose removal alone is capable of setting his (the intermillennial dramaturge’s) heart at ease: he (Alwa) is sincerely, passionately, carnally in love with Lulu, and both eager and able to put this love into copulative practice.  And up with this an intermillennial dramaturge categorically cannot put; for just as he takes it as a given that a(n  obligatorily) strong woman’s ostensible passion for one man must be a forceful protest against her oppression by another, he complementarily takes it as a given that a(n obligatorily) weak man’s ostensible passion for any woman must be a forceless surrogate or beard for his one true passion—his devotion to himself, ideally as manifested in some nerdy hobby chockfull of specialist jargon.  Whence the utility and indeed the indispensability of the II.ii dyad to the Salzburgers: although it unhappily happens to be the episode of the most intense and extensive physical contact between Lulu and Alwa, it is also the only episode in which Alwa recurrently alludes to his métier, and hence the only episode that, albeit via a ruthless virtual graphotomy of the score’s stage directions, can be made to make him seem like a limp-dicked music geek.

The Salzburgers’ treatment of the stage business in the first scene of the third act introduces a new flavor of perfidiousness—the flavor of misplaced frivolity and high spirits, otherwise known as Diefledermauserei or pink champagne.  As scored, III.i begins with a thirteen-bar instrumental introduction followed by the acrobat’s wholly sung proposal of a toast in honor of the party’s hostess, “the Countess Adeleide von…”  (We never learn her last name [a French one, Berg specifies] because the acrobat conceals his inability to pronounce it under a swig from his glass).  As staged by the Salzburgers, this scene begins apparently during the closing minutes of the intermission, when a certain member of the audience, a man seated in one of the front rows rises, turns around so that he has his back to the stage, and speaks the above mentioned proposal.  The viewer very quickly recognizes this bumptious jackanapes as Thomas Johannes Meyer in character as the acrobat, and wearily resigns himself to an unsweet session of fourth wall-downbreaking.  And what an imponderably tedious session thereof it is!  For the acrobat’s proposal cues another dozen or so house-plants, the remaining members of the cast involved in the beginning of this scene, to rise and speak their first lines up to the point when the groom (who has been ludicrously but logically transformed into a Salzburg Festival usher, sharing the livery of navy blue waistcoat and black necktie with the actual youngsters on duty and visible alongside her in the frame), asks everyone to “take your places,” a request that ostensibly prompts everybody to sit back down so that the acrobat ostensibly has to re-propose the toast, which leads to a reenactment of the above routine, which leads in turn to (you guessed it) yet another reenactment—in other words, a third enactment—of the routine, at the end of which the conductor arbitrarily but mercifully strikes up the orchestra, thus genuinely prompting the cast to deliver their lines a fourth time, albeit only the first time as directed by the score.  But even this moment does not afford full relief from the anti-fourth-wallian  tinkering, for rather than “taking their” actual score-directed “places” on stage, the cast for the most part remain in the audience and consequently end up singing, speaking, walking, &c. their parts over, past, and around the heads of dozens of actual paying punters.  However entertaining these APPs may have found it at the time (for I dare not assume they found it even ever-so-slightly so), the whole thing makes for appallingly confusing and uninteresting TV viewing, even (so I dare indeed assume) from the perspective of a non-Lulu buff.  Seriously, I can’t imagine what they (the Salzburgerluluproduktionsmannschaft) were thinking; or, to rephrase it in non-taboo flouting terms, I can’t imagine on what sort of grounds such asininity could be plausibly defended—perchance on the grounds that Lulu, for all its gore and misery, is at bottom a comedy, or that if it must after all be regarded as a tragedy, we must not forget that even King Lear has its fool and Hamlet its wisecracking gravediggers.  But at bottom the distinction between comedy and tragedy is not in point here.  The Marriage of Figaro and Falstaff are comedies, but even during the most unconventionally produced stagings of these operas we do not expect the performance to be interrupted by crowd-baiting shenanigans.  Now we do not only expect but practically demand such shenanigans during performances of works of a certain genre of musical theater—namely the operetta, but Lulu is no operetta, and we know it isn’t one because on the title page of its score there is no “etta” after “Oper.”  Operettas survive directorial interpolations and indeed thrive on them because there is built into the very notion of operetta—or more properly the entire performance history of operetta—the assumption that the performance of the work is an occasion of no great importance.  Indeed, the operetta might describe its mission in exactly the same words as a certain fin du vingtième siècle
pop star described his: “Hey, this is Vegas: people buy beers; they go to a show; they have a good time.”  But an opera performance, for better or worse (but mostly for better, by dint of the sheer paucity of alternatives) is an intrinsically serious occasion, regardless of the tone or mode of the opera being performed.  If the score of an opera calls for full frontal nudity, splitting trouser gags, and custard pie fights, they should by all means be included in the performance, but these antics should be confined to the stage, and the audience should be expected to spectate on them from their seats in po-faced silence.  Those are the rules, and would-be stagers of opera who find them too inhibiting should consider going into the circus.  “Oh, the bare bottom-exposing irony of it all!  That you should recommend this alternative career track of all alternative career tracks to the producers of a work that is framed as a circus act, and that likens its spectators to domestic animals, thereby licensing and indeed demanding the very third wall-downbreaking shenanigans you inveigh against so sanctimoniously!”  Oh, the bare brainstem-exposing inanity of it all!  That you should fail to see that the third wall-downbreaking shenanigans blunt and muddy rather than hone and refine the critique of the traditional relation of performer and spectator that is built into the score of Lulu!  For while the opera’s own dramaturgically self-reflective elements—the animal tamer’s prologue, Alwa’s conception and eventual composition of an opera about Lulu, and the quotation of the opening measure of Wozzeck—may elicit an appreciative smile from the cognoscenti, that smile is utterly untinged by mirth, because the unalterable gist of these Verfremdungsgesten is hardly comical or humorous.  In likening the performance the audience is about to see to a circus act, the animal tamer is hardly trivializing or defanging it of its potency as a mimetic spectacle: to the contrary, he wants us to realize that although the people and events of the opera are not real, dealing with them as an author or director is still a very serious business—it is, indeed—as he reminds us in his peroration—like sticking your head in a lion’s mouth.  Why?  Because the seductiveness of a given person or object is largely independent of its ontological status, of whether it is technically existent or not.  It is every bit as easy to be smitten by the fictitious personages and events of a play or opera as it is to be smitten by the beauty of a real, factual woman (e.g., Lulu as she appears to the other characters in Lulu).  Conversely, that woman’s factuality does nothing to mitigate the transience and apparent contingency of her beauty’s affiliation with the thing-in-itself: we are just as capable of being disillusioned by her beauty—either when it fails to fulfill its Kantian remit of serving as “a metaphor for moral good”, or when it fades with age—as we are by the beauty of fictional representations, when the events of life fail to echo them, or as may even be even worse, succeed in anticipating them.   It is this second phenomenon that Alwa’s disquisition on the “interesting” and as-yet nonexistent opera” about Lulu is meant to exemplify.  Alwa is prevailingly horrified rather than delighted by his discovery of the aptness of Lulu as an opera heroine, because this discovery is tantamount to a reminder to him of how thoroughly permeated his lifeworld is by spectaculrity, and of how much suffering he must look forward to in consequence.  “How long can this go on?” he asks himself in his appallment at the thought that the events of his own life—in its capacity as the life of one of Lulu’s associates—are bound to become ever more dramatically vivid, and hence ever more unpleasant to the person who is obliged to live through them.  The Wozzeck quotation that immediately precedes Alwa’s disquisition underscores Berg’s own vulnerability to the curse of spectacularity: “Just because I have written a famous opera in which human beings appear to sing at my command” this quotation seems to say, “does not mean that I have any mastery over the events of my own life; to the contrary, I am no less helpless and subject to the dramaturgical whims of contingency than Alwa is.”  In sum (and, yes, short), the self-reflexive parts of Lulu are meta-tragic in purport: they attempt to inculcate the lesson that alienation from a dramatic representation in no way constitutes an escape from the bewitching and ultimately annihilating power of such representations.  The Salzburgers’ self-reflexive interpolations, in contrast, function at the less sophisticated or more nearly infantile level of meta-comedy: they want to console the audience by making it believe that by merely realizing that what they are watching is only a representation, they will escape the dramaturgical jinx once and for all.  And when a sophisticated argument is presented in tandem with a less sophisticated one that superficially resembles it, a kind of cognitive analogue of Gresham’s law tends to prevail: that is to say, the content or implied thesis of the more sophisticated argument is assimilated to that of the less sophisticated one.  Hence, one must assume that the first-time viewer of Lulu via the Salzburg video will gather that the message of Berg’s own self-reflexive gestures is identical to that of the Salzburgers: viz., “This is all a big joke.  Don’t take the theater or opera seriously. Relax!  Kick back!  Take a load off!  Light up a spliff!  Fairly wallow in your complacency vis-à-vis your own imperviousness to suggestion by spectacular representations!”

In some ways, my objections to the Salzburgers’ treatment of the final scene of the opera are bound to come across as a bit anticlimactic, occasioned as they are by mere deviations from the score in staging—and deviations that mercifully confine that action to the stage--rather than by the sort of madcap no-holds-barred, from-whole-cloth-cut interpolations one witnesses in their version of III.i.  Moreover, one hesitates to assert that these deviations, numerous and significant as they are, are sufficiently deleterious to prevent the brightest and most attentive Lulu-innocent viewer from constructing a notion of the opera’s conclusion that is not in any essential respect at odds with the score.  All the same, the fact that they come at the end, and indeed at the very end of this opera that as written has the most dramatically potent ending of any in the repertoire (apart, perhaps, from the down-dragging of Don Giovanni’s eponym into hell, which can materialize as an ending only if that opera’s goody-goody epilogue is licentiously deleted) somehow makes them more abominable than all the others put together. Anyway: the significantly disruptive Salzburger tinkering begins at rehearsal 1275 in Cerha’s revision of Stein’s edition of the piano and vocal score.  From this mark onwards, the action prescribed in the score is as follows:  Lulu “exit[s] to her room”; Jack “follow[s] her [into the room] and audibly locks the door from within.”  With Lulu and Jack now both inside the room, Countess Geschwitz is the only person left on the visible part of the stage, and she now delivers her brief soliloquy about her plans to leave “these people” and return to Germany to fight for women’s rights and study law.  The soliloquy is followed by two measures of vocal silence, of pure instrumental music diminuendoing to “a whisper,” over which Lulu declaims in Sprechstimme “from within the room” the word “No” four times and then emits a “death scream.”  Geschwitz now rises and throws herself at the door of the room, whose handle she “shakes with all her might.”  Next Jack, “stooped over, tears open the door and plunges the blood-stained [i.e., from his just-finished murder of Lulu] knife into Geschwitz’s body.”  Geschwitz “collapses,” Jack walks past her to the “basin sited under the skylight,” washes his hands while congratulating himself on what a “lucky fellow” he is, and finally leaves the flat, remarking to Geschwitz as he passes by her again on the way out, “You won’t be around much longer.”  Only a measure and a half after Jack’s exit, Geschwitz, now once again the only person visible on stage, sings the last words of the opera—“Lulu, my angel!  Let me see you one more time!  I am near you, always near you, in eternity!”—and dies (The stage directions pertaining to her death read verbatim and in toto: “sie stirbt.”).  Then, after a measure and a half from the orchestra, one encounters the phrase “Ende der Oper.”  Now to the Salzburgers’ version of these concluding minutes: Instead of withdrawing into Lulu’s room, Lulu and Jack merely move a few feet towards stage right.  The two of them are still fully visible to the audience and are presumably also still visible to Geschwitz, because there is no object of any kind standing between her and them.  While Gesshwitz is delivering her soliloquy, Jack produces his knife.  Lulu sings her four neins, Jack stabs her in the abdomen, and she screams her death scream. Her clothes now abundantly blotched with red stains (incidentally, this version’s treatment of Dr. Schön’s death in II.i is a comparably blood-soaked affair), she falls to the floor.  There is no sign of Geschwitz within the camera frame; if she has reacted to the scream in any way she has presumably done so from the leftward spot where she finished singing.  Jack washes his hands and begins heading very slowly to the stage-left exit.  From this point onwards, right on through to the work’s last measure, he is the focus of the camera’s attention; we see nothing but him from the mid-chest upwards as he slowly, abstractedly stalks out of the apartment.  Along the way, he does indeed absently utter the words, “You won’t be around much longer,” but that the “you” addressed is Geschwitz the Lulu-innocent viewer will gather only by deduction, because she is off-camera; moreover, such a viewer will most likely find the comment itself bemusing, because Jack has done nothing to the countess suggestive of a shortening of her prospects of immediate survival; perhaps the LIV will interpret the comment as a peculiarly prescient diagnosis of a peculiarly severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder.  Certainly, given that Jack remains the only figure we see while Geschwitz is singing her swansong, the first-time Lulu-viewer is well within his or her rights to conjecture that the countess is still alive at the opera’s end.

So that—to employ a monetary metaphor once again—is my five-million 1923 paper marks’ worth of commentary on the 2010 Salzburg Festival Lulu video.  Much as I loathe the disc as a presentation of Berg’s masterpiece, I am immensely grateful to it for having apprised me of the identity of the emetic agent that for nearly three decades has been making my gorge rise against the entire mobility of so-called postmodern so-called artists working across all the media and in all so-called forums of so-called artistic so-called expression—from Peter Sellars to Damien Hirst to Tracy Emin to, yes [sorry, just checking the jacket of the DVD again], Vera Nemirova.  I used to suspect that my revulsion could not but be founded in a residual attachment to some aesthetic cause that, as the reader already knows, I knew (and know) to be fatuous—to “historical authenticity” or “fidelity to the artist’s intentions.”  After all, my favorite production of Don Giovanni, Peter Hall’s, made use of an Empire-style costume template unknown in Mozart’s lifetime, and, as I have already remarked, my beloved Graham Vick production of Lulu took extravagant liberties with Berg’s score.  I suspected that I would eventually have to acknowledge that I was at bottom a sentimental old fuddy-duddy who would never be able to adduce any sort of rational proof in support of his prejudices.  At bottom, I owed this suspicion to my lack of patience: being sufficiently put off by the sight of Schoenberg’s Moses in a brand-name emblazoned hoodie, or of Un ballo’s conspirators seated in a row of toilet stalls, I did not often elect to stick around long enough to see how these repugnant images fitted into the so-called big picture, into the so-called artist’s so-called overall concept.  But having forced myself not only to sit through but repeatedly to examine a so-called postmodern artistic product of substantial temporal dimensions, I see what was implied in little by all these off-putting elements—that it is precisely the absence of a big picture by which such productions tend to be most strongly vitiated.  The besetting sin of the 2010 Salzburg Lulu production is incoherence: in the aggregate its artistic choices make no sense; they do not add up to anything approaching a cogent representation of the world; having been conceived and imposed only at the conceptual resolution of a specific scene and sometimes even only of a specific episode within a scene, they collectively transform Berg’s magnificently unified opera into a desultory collection of dramatic fragments.  Such a dismemberment can be neither of benefit to the viewer-listener nor of credit to the producer(s) and performers: in the words of that fellow in that Seinfeld episode, it’s “not good for anybody.”  Any choice in the execution of a performance-dependent artwork is defensible, and indeed meritorious, if it makes the work seem richer or more wide-ranging or far-seeing or concentrated than it did before; never mind what the work’s author or composer does think, did think, or would have thought of the choice.  (I have already given an example of such a work-enhancing composer-flouting choice in the Glyndebourne production’s treatment of costumes.)  But what can be the justification for an interpretative choice that makes a work seem feebler, more narrow-minded, more purblind, more scatterbrained?  “Why, obviously the thrill of blasphemous transgression against the cult of high art—a.k.a. the old Duchampian frisson induced by drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa.”  Well, sure, that would make sense as a justification—however feeble—if it were possible to draw the equivalent of one big moustache on a work that unfolds, as Lulu does, in time, if one could, say, apply the left handlebar of the ’stache-analogue to Act I of Lulu, the peak or Hitler-section to Act II, and the right handlebar to Act III.  But Duchamp’s moustache is a single instantaneous gesture, a flourish, and can only ever be mimicked in the execution of a temporally extensive work as a series of such flourishes, each of which to come off as a flourish must stand out not only from the de facto uncontroversial realization of the particular passage to which it is applied, but also from all the flourishes that have been applied at earlier moments of this execution.  The net effect of a succession of such flourishes, registered retrospectively at the end of the performance, is bound to be something analogous in Duchampian terms to a long, serpentine black line (no Freudian titters, please!) that merely starts out under Lisa’s nose and subsequently traces such an involved and extensive route through so many other sectors of the painting that it is impossible to recognize as a moustache.  The Duchampian imprevu is always summarizable under the auspices of the question-opener “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” and realizable in the time needed to fill in the rest of the question.  Wouldn’t it be cool if the Mona Lisa, who is after all only a woman by convention, had a moustache?”  Voila!  Now (s)he has one.  “Wouldn’t it be cool if in this scene Alwa, who is after all a composer, were composing instead of kissing and cuddling?”  Eccolo! Now he’s doing just that.  But the temporally parasitic artwork cannot be realized within the intellectual constraints of “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?”   The would-be realizer of such an artwork must consider not only what would be cool here and now but what would make sense in conjunction with what has already happened and what is going to happen.  He must be possessed of that Hoffmannian quality that I have extolled elsewhere in these pages, the quality of Besonnenheit or presence of mind, the quality that has always signalized not only the greatest artistic achievements, but also the greatest achievements in all fields of endeavor requiring sustained intellectual exertion.  But it is probably futile to upbraid the likes of the producers of the Salzburg Lulu for want of Besonnenheit, because in its involvement of the intellect, Besonnenheit is at odds with received aesthetic opinion in our age, which regards abjuration of the intellect and surrendering to the moment of so-called inspiration as the qualities distinguishing the mental life of an artist from that of a natural scientist.  To raise the standard of Besonnenheit in face of such an artist is tantamount to robbing (or at any rate being seen to attempt to rob) him of his powers of expression. 

In any case, even if the Besonnenheit-founded argument manages to carry the day in its own terms, the booster of a 2010 Salzburg Lulu-style production can always argue that such a production, for all its shortcomings, injects a long-overdue sense of novelty and surprise into a work whose beauties we have grown indifferent to thanks to a glut of traditional productions; and that even those who do not find it to their taste should be liberally good-natured enough to concede that the existence of a single madcap off-the-wall  new version hardly threatens the well-being of dozens if not hundreds of  the established stolid, conservative, traditional versions available for viewing thanks to the current season programs of opera houses the world over and the DVD catalogues of  the likes of Kultur, ArtHaus, and Deutsche Grammophon.  And to be sure, vis-à-vis certain madcap productions of certain operas I am only too willing to be so liberally good-natured.  The 2006 Salzburg production of Don Giovanni was almost as heavily stoked with impertinencies as the 2010 Lulu one—in particular one could have done without the presence of a dramatis personae outdrowning dozen plus-strong mute chorus of bra and knickers-clad women in virtually every scene (although even here more Besonnenheit was in evidence than in the 2010 Lulu impertinencies, in that the women started out young and ended up old).  And yet because one had seen many other productions of DG, such that one had a kind of composite imaginary landscape of Seville ready to hand for consultation throughout the screening, one found it easy enough to overlook or look through this production’s betises and to concentrate on the performances.  But as I have had occasion to mention before, the 2010 Salzburg Lulu video is one of only three recorded performances of the complete three-act Lulu available, and neither of the other two is wholly satisfactory.  The Metropolitan video, although scrupulous in the matter of scenes and costumes, is marred by some poor performances (although I should mention that Franz Mazura’s Dr Schön is every bit the equal of Wolfgang Schöne’s in its own more fussy Edwardian way), not to mention the gloomy bleariness of its videotape-dependant camera image.  The Glyndebourne video, although graced by outstanding performances, is on the whole too eccentric to serve as a standard Lulu: in particular, its utter absence of scenery is distracting; and even on technical grounds, it could be improved on, for while Humphrey Burton’s cinematic handling of the camera is exemplary, the recording medium, like that of the Met’s, is analogue videotape and visually hamstrung by that medium’s now universally (and literally) glaring limitations.  What the world now needs, in addition to a good ten-cent cigar, is some sort of judiciously reverent digital Lulu video record.  The production on which that video is based may take if not any then at least many number of forms: a picture-perfect reemployment of the 1980 Met production with better performances would certainly do, as would a comparably well-performed restaging of the 1996 Glyndebourne production against a succession of 1990s scenic backdrops.  I would very much like to see at least once a Lulu that mimics as closely as possible the art deco mise en scene of Pabst’s Pandora’s Box; for although this movie is by no means unimpeachable as an adaptation of Wedekind’s plays (most notably and problematically it tinkers with the conclusion by writing Geschwitz out of the plot in the penultimate scene [or “sixth act” as the captions term it] and leaving Alwa alive in the final one), in its unmistakable siting of the drama in its own present, the 1920s, which the famous Hungarian-American historian John Lukacs has sagaciously termed “the only truly modern decade of the twentieth century,” it somehow captures the truth-content of Lulu as a blueprint of absolute modernity more precisely and capaciously than any production of the opera with which I am as yet familiar.

“Blueprint of absolute modernity!” you scoff: “could you possibly get any more grandiloquently pretentious than that?”  Perhaps not, but perhaps I needn’t even have gotten as pretentious as that.  For all I really mean to say in so styling Lulu is that nothing either of its kind or of even remote kinship thereunto has surpassed it in point of sheer, breathtaking captivatingness.  When I hear supposedly cultivated people crying up the aesthetic merits of that bastard chickenshit genre known as the musical, for example, I want to weep veritable cataracts of vomit, knowing as I do what a wretchedly wan, half-baked, limp-spined creature the finest musical shows itself to be when juxtaposed with Lulu.  And my dyspeptic sorrow issues not principally or even tertiarily from the fact that the language of musicals is typically (and very probably invariably) less advanced (sic on the absence of quotation marks) than that of Lulu, that your Hammersteins and your Sondheims mulishly insist on writing “tunes you can hum” in old-fashioned diatonic keys rather than deriving their compositional materials from twelve-tone rows.  It arises in the main, rather, from my conviction that Lulu has all the things that supposedly top-notch musicals are required to have and most pride themselves on, but in a more heightened, more concentrated, more intoxicating degree.  Many connoisseurs of-cum-authorities on twentieth-century music (e.g., Charles Rosen) admire the richness and complexity of Lulu’s musical architecture while looking down their noses at the subject-matter of its libretto, contemning it as almost tabloidishly lurid.  For my part, I am not in the least put off by this subject-matter, and indeed find it among the most moving in the history of Western drama.  I find the travails and sufferings of Lulu’s characters  who (in Theodor Adorno’s words about them) “love without hope”—the Schöns, the high school student, and Countess Geschwitz--enormously compelling; and the fate of Lulu herself is equally moving in an entirely different register, for however strongly one may wish to condemn her for her callousness (and the reader has already seen that I do not wish to condemn her at all strongly for it), she ultimately dies in retribution for a supposed crime that is not in any sense her fault, and that would still have been treated by the world as a crime even if she had lived as chastely as a nun—the crime of being beautiful.  What is more, far from regarding Lulu’s music as a sort of highfalutin soundtrack alienable from the libretto, I regard it as the perfect and inalienable accompaniment to the events and utterances of that libretto, as the only kind of music that is capable of underwriting the intrinsic dignity and emotional force of those events and utterances.  When I weep—all right, “tear up a bit” is nearer to what actually happens—at Countess Geschwitz’s death it is because and not in spite of that death’s being accompanied not by a whole-note root-position C minor triad, but rather by a series of non-diatonic chords followed by a strategically anticlimactic downbeat eighth-note unison F.  Moreover, when I hear Lulu singing the words “Oh freedom” along an ascending minor seventh and a descending minor second, I feel the fetter-blasting, sun-in letting intensity of relief contained in those words much more fully than I would in hearing them sung to an arpeggiated inversion of a C major triad.  And I believe that any Tom, Dick, Jane, Harry, or Henrietta who appreciates dramas of such compellingly searing intensity as Lulu’s libretto—dramas with which Hollywood and Broadway alike abound—must likewise acknowledge the justness of this music, regardless of whether he or she is a fan of opera at all, let alone non-tonal opera—provided, of course, that he or she makes his acquaintance with this opera via a production of it that does justice to its most basic and compelling dramatic qualities—that, in other words, makes it as superficially dazzling as any of the classic cinematic realizations of the supposedly classic Broadway musicals.  When it was still a very recent hit, Tchaikovsky called Carmen “the chef d’oeuvre of our age”; by the end of the century it was firmly established as the most popular opera in the world, a position from which the ensuing hundred-plus years have not managed to dislodge it.  If there is one opera written since Carmen that deserved to be recognized in its own time as the chef d’oeuvre of its age, and deserves now to dislodge Carmen from its perch of high-and-low annihilating preeminence it is Lulu.  The turmoil of the Second World War combined with Helene Berg’s jealous custodianship of Berg’s sketches debarred Lulu from receiving the first of these honors by respectively reducing the number of performances and restricting the basis of these performances to a two-act torso; since the premiere of the three-act Lulu in 1979, the opera’s progress towards the second honor has been impeded by inadequate productions.  If Lulu is ever to attain that honor it must be treated by its realizers for stage and screen alike with the reverence it deserves as the pinnacle of achievement in both the operatic medium (or genre) and mainstream early twentieth-century culture tout court, rather than as an infinitely abusable avant-garde curio or antediluvian warhorse.

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