February 5, 2010 / 5:42 PM / 8 years ago

X-rated opera garners first night cheers

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.

A scene where the rich, greedy and gullible stake their all in booming shares had a contemporary resonance.

"Where has all the money gone?" sung one character after the shares crashed, prompting knowing chuckles from many in the banker-laden audience.

The colors disappear in the last scene, where Py shows the London streets with a dark and empty set and falling snow. Jack the Ripper appears in this nightmare world as Father Christmas, which could be trite but is terribly menacing.

Py himself was absent from the premiere, attending another opening night in Paris. But the success of his eighth production in Geneva makes it certain he will be asked to come again.

"I would like to be seen as an artisan of the senses, whose inspiration originates in faithfulness to the works," he told the Geneva opera's house magazine.

Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Paul Casciato

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