X-rated opera garners first night cheers

Fri Feb 5, 2010 12:36pm EST
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By Jonathan Lynn

GENEVA (Reuters) - A new production of Alban Berg's opera "Lulu," which Geneva's Grand Theater warned was unsuitable for people younger than 16, delighted a packed first-night audience with not a boo or cat-call to be heard.

The warning referred to a brief sequence of out-of-focus pornographic film in the last scene, when the heroine Lulu is reduced to working as a prostitute in a London slum.

But nudity and sexual mimicry on stage raised few eyebrows Thursday night in an opera depicting a depraved society without values, and were hardly out of place in its relentless story of seduction and death.

The audience were taken with the dazzling performance by French soprano Patricia Petibon in one of opera's most demanding roles and the stunning production by French director Olivier Py placing the opera in a world between cartoon-like circus and 1960s art installation, with neon lights and consumer clutter.

Previous productions in the staid Swiss city by Py, who heads the prestigious Theater de l'Odeon in Paris, have brought out the sex and violence which is not far from the surface in some of the most lyrical operas.

Lulu, based on two dramas by German fin-de-siecle playwright Frank Wedekind, tells the story of a sexually attractive dancer who several men and women become obsessed with, often dying as a result, and who ends up as a prostitute murdered by Jack the Ripper.

Py reflected Berg's modernist 12-tone music in a bright palette of changing colors and lights, while massive sets trundling slowly across the stage suggested the characters caught up in a machine, out of control of their lives.

"In Lulu all you can do is to plunge into the depths of a nightmare of colors," Py told the Tribune de Geneve newspaper.   Continued...