An opportunity to experience a Berg opera once a season comes along infrequently. The chance to hear two Berg works in one day must be the equivalent of winning the opera lottery. For Chicagoans, that will be the case this Saturday, Nov. 21, when the Metropolitan Opera will simulcast in movie theaters its acclaimed new production of Lulu, directed and conceived by visual artist William Kentridge, while Lyric Opera of Chicago will present its final performance of Wozzeck, in a new production by Sir David McVicar.
As part of the Met’s 10th season of its “Live in HD” series, Lulu will be transmitted worldwide, beginning at 11:30 a.m. CST, while the three-act, 90-minute Wozzeck, which Lyric is staging without an intermission, starts at 7:30 p.m. Lulu features German soprano Marlis Petersen, in her 10th go-round in as Berg’s femme fatale over 18 years; though she’s currently considered the definitive interpreter, she has decided to retire the role after this run at the Met. “It’s good to stop on a good high point,” said Petersen in a recent interview with the New York Times. “I have a feeling it’s time to put her to sleep. I’m sad about that. It’s not that I can’t do it anymore; it’s just that … it has sneaked so much into my system that it rules my life somehow, this part.”
Joining Petersen in the cast are mezzo Susan Graham, in her Met role debut as the Countess Geschwitz, one of Lulu’s lovers; Danish bass-baritone Johan Reuter as Dr. Schön; American tenor Daniel Brenna in his Met debut as the composer Alwa; German baritone Franz Grundheber as Schigolch, and American tenor Paul Groves in dual roles as the Painter and the African Prince. Kentridge’s staging, inspired by German Expressionist woodcuts of Max Beckmann, Max Pechstein and Otto Dix, reunites the team from his 2010 Met production of Shostakovich’s The Nose, including co-director Luc De Wit, projection designer Catherine Meyburgh, scenic designer Sabine Theunissen, costume designer Greta Goiris and lighting desiger Urs Schönebaum. On the podium is Welsh National Opera music director Lothar Koenigs.
Later this season, Groves will make his Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut in Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet, conducted by Riccardo Muti. A longtime Lyric Opera favorite, Groves first worked with Muti at La Scala nearly two decades ago. Groves specializes in the French repertoire, and last appeared at Lyric in Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust. Singing that role for the first time in 1999 changed his life. “I had sung Nadir in Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, but what really changed my career and the way I was viewed, was my taking on the role of Faust in Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust,” he said in an interview with the site Opera Warhorses. “I love that piece, especially its choral parts.
“I love the French repertoire. These days you can perform such classic French roles as the title roles in Gounod’s Faust, Massenet’s Werther, Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann and Romeo in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, and audiences will not come with specific expectations about how you are supposed to sound, as is the case with many Italian operas. It’s hard as an audience opera member to ‘clean the slate’ when there are familiar recordings and a performance tradition for the Italian works that affect audience expectations.”
Groves credits the great tenor Nicolai Gedda for his embrace of the French style. “The reason I have done so much French repertoire is to try to produce sound like Gedda’s, whose voice is so right for the French language. When you hear a recording of Gedda singing in French, you know what I’m trying to do. His voice fit the French language much better than it did the Italian.”
As for saying farewell to her beloved Lulu, which she performed for the last time in Europe earlier this year, Petersen told the New York Times: “I didn’t know that it was so deeply rooted in me. Of course, when you say goodbye to something it’s never easy. But it’s really like taking out something, an organ of mine, you know? I cried a lot, and I’m sure that I will cry here, too.”
TOP: William Kentridge’s design for the Met’s Lulu was inspired by German Expressionist woodcuts by Max Beckmann, Max Pechstein and Otto Dix. | Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera