Alban Berg’s modernist masterpiece Lulu returns to the Met, starring Marlis Petersen as the scandalous femme fatale and conducted by the Met’s newly appointed Principal Guest Conductor Fabio Luisi. When Petersen performed Lulu in Chicago in 2008, the Chicago Tribune celebrated the German soprano’s performance in the “murderously difficult title role,” calling her “today’s Lulu of choice in opera houses around the world.” The cast includes the Met role debuts of Anne Sofie von Otter as the Countess Geschwitz, Gary Lehman as Alwa, Michael Schade as the amorous Painter, Bradley Garvin as the Animal Trainer/Acrobat, and James Morris as Dr. Schön. The production is by John Dexter, the sets and costumes are by Jocelyn Herbert, and the lighting designer is Gil Wechsler. Performances run through May 15.
In 1928, Alban Berg began to compose Lulu, his opera about an impetuous and ultimately ruined woman based on two plays by Frank Wedekind (Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora). By the time of his death in 1935, Acts I and II were complete, with Act III yet to be fully scored. The onset of World War II halted any further work on Lulu, and Helene Berg, the composer’s widow, staunchly opposed subsequent work on the opera until her death in 1976. Lulu had its Met premiere in 1977, conducted by Met Music Director James Levine (who was originally scheduled to conduct this revival of Lulu but cancelled due to back surgery). The current three-act version, completed by Austrian composer and conductor Friedrich Cerha, had its premiere at the Paris Opera in 1979, conducted by Pierre Boulez and staged by Patrice Chéreau. It premiered at the Met in 1980. Lulu is a gift of Mrs. Edgar M. Tobin and the Metropolitan Opera Club. The revival is a gift of Robert L. Turner.
About the performers
Marlis Petersen returns to the Met stage following her recent turn as Ophélie in Hamlet, in which she replaced Natalie Dessay on very short notice. Despite her minimal rehearsal time, Petersen delivered a performance the New York Times noted for her “bright, alluring, and agile voice.” She has frequently performed in contemporary operas. Earlier this season, Petersen performed the title role of Medea at the Vienna State Opera, a world premiere opera written especially for her by Aribert Reimann. Petersen has performed in two other recent world premieres: Aphrodite in Henze’s Phaedra at the Berlin State Opera in 2007 and Marta in Trojahn’s La Grande Magia at the Dresden State Opera in 2008. Petersen made her Met debut in 2005 as Adele in Die Fledermaus, and is also well known elsewhere for her portrayals of Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail. She has performed at the Barvarian State Opera, the Berlin State Opera, and the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, as well as the Aix-en-Provence Festival and the Bregenz Festival. Later this year, Petersen makes her Los Angeles Opera debut as Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro.
Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter makes her Met role debut as the Countess Geschwitz. Following her 1988 Met debut as Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro, von Otter has appeared in a range of roles at the Met for which she has won wide acclaim, including Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, Idamante in Idomeneo, Mélisande in Pelléas et Mélisande, and Orlofsky in Act II of Die Fledermaus at the Gala Opening Night of the 1991-92 season. She last appeared at the Met as Sesto in La Clemenza di Tito in 2005. Von Otter has also performed several times with James Levine and the MET Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, singing Marguerite in La Damnation de Faust, Judith in Bluebeard’s Castle, and as soloist in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.
Gary Lehman made his Met debut in 2008 as Tristan in Tristan und Isolde, stepping in on short notice to perform one of the most difficult roles in the heldentenor repertory. He returned last season to sing Siegmund in Die Walküre under James Levine in the final performances of Otto Schenk’s production of the Ring cycle. Elsewhere, Lehman has performed the title role in Parsifal (Los Angeles Opera), Florestan in Fidelio (Roanoke Opera), Erik in Der Fliegende Holländer (Savonlinna Festival), Stathis Borans in the United States premiere of The Fly (Los Angeles Opera), Samson (Orlando Opera), and the title role in Tannhäuser (Norwegian National Opera).
Michael Schade takes on the role of the Painter for the first time in his Met career. Last season, the Canadian tenor appeared as Nicias in a new production of Massenet’s Thaïs, which was seen live in HD. Schade made his Met debut in 1993 as Jacquino in Fidelio and has also performed Alfred in Die Fledermaus, Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni.
Bradley Garvin makes his Met role debut as the Animal Trainer/Acrobat, stepping in at late notice for David Pittsigner. Garvin made his Met debut in 1993 as Second Prisoner in Fidelio, and has since performed in more than a dozen operas at the Met, including La Fille du Régiment, Otello, Madama Butterfly, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, The Ghosts of Versailles, Billy Budd, Satyagraha, and Tosca. The American bass baritone is a winner of the Washington, D.C. International Vocal Competition, the Plácido Domingo’s Operalia Competition, and a recipient of the William Matheus Sullivan Award.
With Dr. Schön/Jack the Ripper, James Morris adds a second role this season to his extensive Met repertoire, following his Met role debut as Claudius in the new production of Hamlet (seen live in HD). In his nearly 40 years at the Met, Morris has sung more than 50 roles, including the title roles of Le Nozze di Figaro, Der Fliegende Holländer, and Boris Godunov, the four villains in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and King Philip in Don Carlo. Last season, Morris made his Met role debut as Prince Gremin in Eugene Onegin and also reprised his widely acclaimed interpretation of Wotan in the Met’s final staging of Otto Schenk’s production of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Next season, his 40th at the Met, Morris returns to one of his signature roles, Scarpia in Tosca, as well as to the role of Frère Laurent in Roméo et Juliette, a role he last sang here in 1974.
Fabio Luisi was recently appointed Principal Guest Conductor at the Met. The maestro will take up his new post beginning with the 2010-11 season. Lulu is the fifth opera he conducts at the Met this season, following earlier performances of Elektra, Le Nozze di Figaro, Hansel and Gretel, and Tosca. In the 2010-11 season, the Italian maestro will return for Ariadne auf Naxos and Rigoletto. Luisi, who made his Met debut in 2005 with Don Carlo, is only the second principal guest conductor in Met history, following Valery Gergiev who held the position from 1998 to 2008. Luisi served as general music director of the Dresden’s Saxon State Opera and Staatskapelle Orchestra from 2007 to 2010, artistic director of the MDR Symphony Orchestra in Leipzig from 1999 to 2007, music director of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande from 1997-2002, and chief conductor of the Tonkünstler Orchestra in Vienna from 1995 to 2000. A native of Genoa, he is currently chief conductor of the Vienna Symphony and artistic director of the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan.