I’ve just come back from a performance of Berg’s Lulu, at
the Metropolitan Opera. It’s a great piece, of course, although weirdly
much of the audience didn’t seem to think so: it was noticeably thinner
by the end than it was at the beginning. I don’t really understand
this: it’s not like people buy tickets to Lulu thinking they’re
getting Puccini. And the crowd was definitely younger than normal
at the Met, something else I found surprising: I don’t see why Lulu
should attract a particularly younger audience than, say, Moses
und Aron or the newly-commissioned version of The Great Gatsby
I went to see there.
I also had a piece of luck; whether it was good or bad I wasn’t sure
to begin with. The eponymous role was meant to have been sung by Christine
Schäfer, who got rave reviews. But she was ill, and instead her
golden stilettos were filled by Cyndia Sieden, someone I shouldn’t
imagine one audience member in a hundred had heard of. I did a little
web search on her when I got back home, and as far as I can make out
she’s a coloratura Mozart specialist who has never done anything like
this at all.
And this wasn’t just outside her natural Mozart turf, it was also
her Metropolitan Opera debut: imagine walking out onto the stage of
the Met, a nerve-racking experience in the smallest of rôles,
and then having to sing Lulu! Understandably, she was a bit shaky
to begin with, and even towards the end she found it quite hard to
project in the spoken parts. Also, while Lulu is certainly
romantic, it’s not mushy, and she did have a tendency to heap on the
syrup a little bit when it came to the high bits.
That said, however, Sieden grew enormously in confidence over the
course of the evening, and by the harrowing end she was Lulu.The
cast, the audience and James Levine all gave her an enormous round
of applause, which was very well deserved.
It’s at times like these that you remember that opera is a theatrical
art, and that the audience and the performers really do connect. Especially
in this production, which had a fair few Brechtian touches such as
the singers referring directly to the Concertmeister Levine,
by the end the successful staging of this performance, with
this lead soprano, was an individual triumph.Sieden might not
be one of the world’s great Lulus, but she touched us, here, tonight.