DP's blog: Lulu week 2

Posted on Tue, 2013-01-29 10:48 by David Pountney

We actually reached the end of the opera which felt like a significant milestone, except that we by-passed one major scene on the way whilst waiting for the crucial bit of scenery to arrive – a delicate sculpture which is coming from Berlin, and another significant scene which awaits the return of Alan Oke who is singing in The Minotaur at ROH.  The rest of the set has been beautifully built in our own CTS workshops, and looks very impressive in the rehearsal room. This is the de luxe situation that we have thanks to the Milennium Centre – full size rehearsal rooms with easy access to the stage and loading bays so that the entire set can be put up in the rehearsal room. The State Opera of Vienna has no such room for example, though they don’t really believe in rehearsing anyway! (whoops – did I say that? – you weren’t listening were you?)

There has been quite a lot of clowning going on this week – controlled clowning I hasten to add! – but I am at pains not to neglect the elements of farce, circus and Dada that are very much a feature of this work and indeed of the entire artistic climate in which this work was created. Think of all those circus paintings by Picasso, Beckmann, Chagall. The last scene is a case in point: in one sense it is a ghastly scene of brutal male revenge, ending with Jack the Ripper’s murder of Lulu. And the last ten minutes are coloured by the exquisitely lyrical music that describes Lulu’s female lover, the Countess Geschwitz, who has followed Lulu all the way to this East London hell-hole, though what she really longs to do is to study and fight for women’s rights. But the anguish of her utterances, and the horror of what follows, function most heart-rendingly because of the pure Dadaist comedy that precedes them. Lulu’s first client, the “echo” of her first husband and victim, the Professor of Medicine, is a nutty theologian in the proverbial dirty raincoat who insists on a vow of silence as though he were in a monastery, and the second is a gin-swigging cliché “Nigger” who might have been a dance  partner for Josephine Baker. Mark Le Broq showed us some very nifty moves, belying his large frame – isn’t it interesting how often large men are good dancers? – but after all this cabaret he turns round and murders the composer Alwa (so I suppose the opera ought to come to an abrupt end?) and from this moment on, the smile is well and truly wiped off our faces. This is one of the great scenes in all opera! 

The other horror story of the week has been health and safety…. The set is a kind of circus structure which cries out be climbed on, swung from, balanced on and so on. And every time anyone gets 5 cm off the ground the indefatigable and limitlessly patient Katie – the stage manager – does a little risk assessment. At this point I am supposed mentally to put on my Chief Executive’s suit and react with appropriate sobriety, instead of making sarcastic wisecracks which is what tends to happen. However, since Jan, our technical director, reminded me, very sweetly, that I would be personally responsible if anything happened, I must try to mend my ways. I promise, Katie!