Last Night's premiere in the closing days of the Edinburgh Festival of their new production American Lulu had much in common with last year's very enjoyable chamber series from Scottish Opera.
Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth has adapted Alban Berg's opera to a period spanning the 1950s to the 1970s in the American South. The personal tragedy of the exploited but manipulative antiheroine is played out against a backdrop of the struggle for civil rights and racial equality. The action on stage is intercut with the playing of famous speeches of Martin Luther King, a timely commemoration of his 50th anniversary, and remaining pertinent as well as inspiring.
The plot elements contrast personal and collective aspects of freedom. This tale of mutual sexual exploitation still has power to shock, perhaps all the more so seen now from the perspective of a woman who has pursued a 'successful' career in high-class prostitution from the age of 12. Neuwirth has creatively re-orchestrated the first two acts to include electric guitar, electric piano and percussion and the music references jazz and blues, acting implictly as a voice of the oppressed black population. Her re-working of the first two acts follows the original libretto but goes on to a new ending which I actually much prefer. I prefer the more ambiguous ending (unsolved crime, many possible suspects and motives) than the Jack the Ripper scenario. This underscores, as a sub-plot element, the uneasy relationship between the black community and the police, the ending and the police commissioner scene playing off against each other in an interesting nuance.
A small cast performed a musically enjoyably and emotionally intense work using effective but never extravagant staging. Angel Blue sings the title role. Jacqui Dankworth, cast well as Eleanor, the "Countess Geschwitz" character is stunning as a lesbian admirer and aspiring jazz singer. Paul Reeves multi-tasks as Professor/Banker/Commissioner with aplomb..The singing is uniformly good in the supporting parts, as is the orchestral playing but Paul Curievici, also good in last year's production Ghost Patrol, stands out as the Photographer.
This American Lulu is co-produced by The Opera Group, (which supports the creation of new work) Bregenzer Festspiele, Scottish Opera and the Young Vic in association with the London Sinfonietta. It was co-commissioned by Komische Oper Berlin and The Opera Group. There is another performance in Edinburgh tonight, and the production then tours to thee Young Vic Theatre from 13-24 September (www.youngvic.org / 020 7922 2922). This interesting and creative production is well worth seeing.
Juliet heard American Lulu in Edinburgh. I'm going to the London performances at the Young Vic, where I heard Olga Neuwirth's Lost Highway in 2008. Neuwirth has a thing for completely reinterpreting ideas in new forms. Lost Highway wasn't "about" the David Lynch movie of the same name, butt a kind of afterlife recreation. American Lulu, I suspect, won't be Berg Mark 2 but something quite original. Watch tjhis space!