Making a visual feast of Lulu
22 November, 2016 — By Sebastian Taylor
Brenda Rae as Lulu in English National Opera’s new staging. Photo: Catherine Ashmore
IT’S not often an artist gets an opportunity to show works in front of an opera audience for over three hours.
Eminent South African artist William Kentridge grasps that opportunity with gusto in his new staging of Berg’s Lulu for English National Opera at the London Coliseum.
From beginning to end, several thousand of his charcoal sketches made on pages of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary are displayed through huge video projections.
Inevitably, given the opera’s femme fatale subject matter, there’s no end of breasts and private parts, sometimes covered, sometimes not – and full-frontals of large-limbed ladies standing up or lying on their side, à la Lucien Freud, lumps and all.
There are lots of heads, mostly male, oddly several looking like Lenin, along with huge flowers in pots, leaves often fluttering in the ENO breeze.
The charcoals are excellent – and that’s the drawback. With such a visual feast, it’s hard to enjoy Berg’s opera, difficult enough task at the best of times given the composer’s use of 12-note scale system.
The dense orchestral music is often impenetrable despite conductor Mark Wigglesworth’s best endeavours. Even so, much of the singing is terrific. Soprano Brenda Rae is a most convincing Lulu as one husband or partner after another commits suicide or is murdered – until she’s murdered by Jack the Ripper.
Other parts are mostly well sung with Nicky Spence and Willard White in fine form and Sarah Connally an outstanding Countess Geschwitz.
• Lulu is at ENO, London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC1, on November 17, 7pm, and 19, 6pm, 020 7845 9300, www.eno.org