LULU | London, ENO

Berg’s unfinished expressionist masterpiece is rarely performed, which makes this co-production by the English National Opera, New York Metropolitan Opera, Dutch National Opera and Teatro dell’Opera di Roma a very special event. But what really makes it contender for ‘opera event of the year’ is the astonishing talent of the huge cast and the limitless imagination of the direction and design (spearheaded by director and artist William Kentridge).

Lulu herself is a femme fatale par excellence, surrounded by lovers and artists and bankers all as unfeeling and corrupt as her, or disturbingly pathetic. A female concert pianist with a prim black bob watches over the entire proceedings from her piano at the front of the stage, twisting like a sexualised expressionistic Liza Minnelli robot. She is the ideal, silent Lulu, the one that drives men and women to madness, immortalised in artistic form.

Audience members should prepare themselves for nearly four hours of lust and death in a quickfire, unpredictable libretto, framed by an enormous, distorted cardboard set with ever shifting projections of black paint making crude portraits and wet Rorschach-like images. Berg’s unsettling and hugely expressive atonal score is played and sung with urgency and sensitivity.

Amazingly, the production is not charmless, but endlessly gripping, and even moving. Brenda Rae’s wild, clear soprano and palpable charisma as the singing Lulu is a clear hit with the audience. Not only are ENO committed to making opera that grips and moves its audience in English, but 500 tickets are £20 (or cheaper) for every performance. Which is just as well, because when a production excels like this on every level, it demands to be seen more than once.

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