by James Jorden
NEW YORK POST
Alban Berg's "Lulu" is an opera for adults.
The return of this disturbing masterpiece to the Met Saturday afternoon for the first time since 2002 left the audience momentarily limp with emotion before it burst into a standing ovation.
The story, as troubling today as it was at the 1937 Zurich premiere, is about the destructive power of female sexuality. As a young girl, Lulu was the lover of both Hearst-like newspaper tycoon Dr. Schoen and his son Alwa. After her first two husbands die mysteriously, she marries Schoen, then murders him when he discovers her many affairs.
Escaping from prison with the help of the lesbian Countess Geschwitz, she faces blackmail, prostitution and, finally, a grisly encounter with a serial killer.
Berg's music enriches the sordid story with jazzy lyricism that probes the depth of the sexpot's soul. In the end, only the women characters, Lulu and the devoted Countess, emerge with sympathy.
Ironically, the hero of the Met's "Lulu" is a man -- conductor Fabio Luisi. He accepted a thunderous ovation with the same modesty he devoted to the work. His precise leadership elegantly defines the many layers of sound in Berg's complex score.
Marlis Petersen boasted a supermodel's face and figure as Lulu, her manic acting contrasting with her cool soprano. Veteran bass James Morris sounded vocally fresh in his first-ever performance of Dr. Schoen, returning after his death scene for a chilling cameo as Jack the Ripper.
As the Countess, mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter made her spiky vocal lines sound as pristine as Mozart, and Gary Lehman's tenor rang with confidence as the heartbroken Alwa. Among the large and expert company a standout was the young American mezzo Ginger Costa-Jackson in multiple roles, including a dowdy wardrobe lady and a horny schoolboy.
The 1977 John Dexter production tells the story cleanly, but the sets are looking shabby. This superb a cast and conductor deserve a fresh staging so the Met's audience can experience "Lulu" on a regular basis.