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The Sunday Opera: Alban Berg's "Lulu"

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One of opera’s first twelve-tone or “serialism” works, “Lulu” by Alban Berg is the feature on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/24 3:00 p.m.). Berg began “Lulu” in 1929, a full year or so before Schoenberg, the father of twelve-tone composing, began his first twelve-tone work and only comedy “From Today to Tomorrow,” but Berg’s work was left unfinished at the time of his death in 1935. “Lulu” premiered in an incomplete form in 1937 but would not be completed until 1979, and it is that recording we’ll hear this week which features the third act completed from Berg’s notes by Friedrich Cerha.

The opera is based on two of Frank Wederkind’s “Lulu” plays and focuses on the amoral machinations of the title character who, for some reason, is unquestionably loved and desired by many whom she simply uses and casts aside without a second thought. Lulu is a polarizing character in that she represents extreme duality that ranges from “earth-mother” to “whore,” and after her arrest for the murder of her husband, her life spirals out of control. That downward spiral drags those who have remained in her life down with her as well begging the question as to why they would stay with her and still worship her in spite of her depravity.

Our recording comes from the Paris Opera and features Theresa Stratas in the titular role. Dr. Schon, a man with whom she is inexplicably linked, is sung by Frank Mazura, and his composer son whose life is also destroyed by Lulu is Kenneth Riegel. Yvonne Minton is the Countess who gives up everything because of her obsession with Lulu. Other members of the cast who play multiple roles include Robert Tear, Hanna Schwarz, Toni Blankenheim, Gerd Nienstedt, and Helmut Pampuch. Pierre Boulez conducts the Paris Opera Orchestra.

We’ll continue with more music of Berg after the opera with his Piano Sonata, an early work listed as his opus 1, performed by Andreas Haefliger, and Berg’s Chamber Concerto in a live recording from 1959 that was conducted by Paul Hindemith.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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