The multiple award-winning Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth takes a fresh look at one of theatre history’s most dazzling female characters. In her treatment of Alban Berg’s Lulu, a key work of 20th century opera, Lulu, Geschwitz, and Schigolch become African Americans whose fate plays out against the backdrop of the US protest movements of the sixties and seventies.
Viewed from the third act, whose music and text are completely new compositions, the first two acts seem like a distant memory. “Berg’s music in the first two acts is orchestrated for a type of jazz ensemble, because it is the music for Lulu’s flashback to 1950s New Orleans. The third act takes place in 1970s New York. Lulu has become a high-class prostitute with contacts to famous business people and politicians, and to whom matters both private and public are entrusted without question.” [Olga Neuwirth] Lulu has adapted herself perfectly to the society that discriminates against her. “People have the option of self-determination, even if this path is more difficult than letting oneself be kept and adored. Lulu, both tortured and torturer, – whether exterminating angel or bringer of happiness – lives off and through men. She becomes part of a tangled skein of seedy schemes and power games. The other character, Berg’s Geschwitz, Eleanor in my version, is a blues singer who insists on the inevitability of pain, and on its subjectivity. She fights for freedom, and treads a difficult, but self-determined path. She consciously searches for her own expression, her own identity. But what ultimately counts for us again today is: whose voice is heard?” [Olga Neuwirth]
The Russian theatre and film director Kirill Serebrennikov has, among other places, worked at Moscow’s Pushkin Theatre, at the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theatres, and is now active internationally. His film Playing the victim received the award for best film at the Rome Film Festival in 2006. American Lulu represents his first staging at a German-language opera house.