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BERG: Lulu (David Robert Coleman completion) – DGG

A production for idiots, and a musical completion that spells disaster.

ALBAN BERG: Lulu (complete opera, David Robert Coleman completion)

Cast: Mojca Erdmann (Lulu)/ Deborah Polaski (Countess Geschwitz)/ Michael Volle (Jack the Ripper)/ Thomas Piffka (Alwa)/ Stephan Rügamer (Painter/Negro)
Orch.: Staatskapelle Berlin/ Daniel Barenboim
Director: Andrea Breth
Studio: DGG 00440 073 4934
Video: 16:9 widescreen
Audio: PCM Stereo, DTS 5.1 surround
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Korean
No Region Code
Length: 156 minutes
Rating: **

This is a new completion of Berg’s opera, one that proves as willful and ostensibly unidiomatic as can possibly be imagined. The production attempts to disguise this fact, but then you read in the booklet “As a result of Berg’s sudden death in 1935, his second and last opera remained a fragment and has now been completed by David Robert Coleman, who was commissioned by the Berlin State Opera Unter den Linden to elaborate the composer’s sketches. The result is this new “Berlin version”, premiered in 2012, which omits the prologue and the so called “Paris scene” at the beginning of Act III, in order to condense the plot and to underline the symmetrical structure intended by Berg.”

I am not an expert on this opera, even though I know and love it greatly, but the changes to the finished version so memorably premiered by Boulez on record are too numerous to list. Friedrich Cerha completed the work after the composer’s widow passed away (she had obsessively prevented the work from being tampered with until then) and it was recorded with Boulez and Teresa Stratas. Berg left enough behind—far more than is thought—that Cerha’s work serves as an accepted standard that should not be rejected solely on the idea that someone feels they can improve the work by destroying the dramatic impetus and soiling the musical balance that Berg said the third act represented. It is, in a word, awful.

Moreover, the production has the characters moving about as stylized zombies in the most ridiculous of manners, adding a level of symbolic esoterica that the piece hardly benefits from. After two hours of this inertia, the mind begins to wander and the patience dissolve. What makes the foolishness of this aberrant production even more irritating is that it also happens to be one of the best performed and sung Lulus I have ever heard. New superstar Mojca Erdmann is in possession of a gloriously lyrical and light voice that skates the maniacal lines of Berg’s opus with technical flawlessness and superb nuance—it may never have been done better. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, making this a colossal waste of time for those wishing to glory solely on the felicities of the vocalism. Barenboim too, while certainly to be criticized for agreeing to this foolishness, conducts with a breadth and beauty of line that is simply ravishing.

But this isn’t a recording, despite the excellent sound; it’s a DVD, and as such it must be said that this is a whale of a missed opportunity. Perhaps these forces will link up in the future without the albatross of Coleman’s completion and Breth’s stage direction. Until that day…

—Steven Ritter

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