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Lulu (opera)

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Lulu (opera)

Lulu (composed from 1929–1935, premièred incomplete in 1937) is an opera by the composer Alban Berg. The libretto was adapted by Berg himself from Frank Wedekind's plays Erdgeist (Earth Spirit, 1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box, 1904). Berg died before completing the third and final act, and in the following decades, the opera was typically performed incomplete. Since its publication in 1979, however, the Friedrich Cerha orchestration has become popular.

Composition history

Berg first saw Die Büchse der Pandora in 1905 in a production by Karl Kraus, but did not begin work on his opera until 1929, after he had completed his other opera, Wozzeck. He worked steadily on the score until 1935, when the death of Manon Gropius, the daughter of Walter Gropius and Alma Mahler, prompted him to break off work to write his Violin Concerto.

Berg completed the violin concerto swiftly, but the time he spent on that meant he was unable to complete the opera before his death later in 1935. The following portions of the third and final act were fully scored: the first 268 bars; the instrumental interlude between scenes 1 and 2; and the finale of the opera, beginning with the monologue of Countess Geschwitz. (The last two of these passages comprise the fourth and fifth movements of the Lulu Suite which Berg compiled for concert performance.) The rest of the work remained in short score with indications of instrumentation for much of it.

Berg was able to hear the Symphonic Pieces in a BBC radio broadcast from the Queen's Hall, London on 20 March 1935, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult and produced by Edward Clark. It was the first time he had ever heard any of the music of Lulu. He was not to hear these excerpts performed live until a concert in Vienna on 11 December, a fortnight before his death.[1]

The opera was first performed by the Zurich Opera in an incomplete form in 1937.[2] Erwin Stein made a vocal score of the whole of act 3 following Berg's death, and Helene Berg, Alban's widow, approached Arnold Schoenberg to complete the orchestration. Schoenberg at first accepted, but upon being sent copies of Berg's sketches he changed his mind, saying that it would be a more time-consuming task than he had thought. Helene subsequently forbade anybody else to complete the opera, and for over forty years only the first two acts could be given complete, usually with the act 3 portions of the Lulu Suite played in place of act 3. The last recording made of the original two-act version—Christoph von Dohnányi conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, with Anja Silja in the title role (Decca/London, recorded 1976 and released 1978)—presented it in this form.

Director Heinz Ruckert shot the silent film featured at the midpoint according to Berg's exacting specifications. The film wordlessly depicts Lulu's arrest, trial, incarceration, and ultimate liberation thanks to the cunning of the Countess Geschwitz. Like the music for this sequence (and the opera as a whole), the film has a palindromic structure. The original film is lost save for four stills which remain in the Zurich Stadtarchiv.[3] Each successive production requires a new film to be shot with the stage actors. However, many recent productions omit the film altogether.

Performance history

Following the Zürich premiere, the opera was seen at La Fenice in 1949 conducted by Sanzogno, in Essen in 1953 conducted by König,[4] and in Hamburg in 1957 with Helga Pilarczyk in a Günther Rennert production which was also seen at the Paris Opera in 1960 and La Scala in 1963.[5] In its two-act form plus sketches of the third act, Lulu made its American debut at the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico during the 1963 season, with the American soprano Joan Carroll in the title role. The Opera's general director, John Crosby, attempted to negotiate for Santa Fe to stage the American premiere of the full three-act opera, but was not successful.[2] A notable Lulu, Silja, made her debut in a Wieland Wagner production at Stuttgart in 1966 (which was later filmed, with Carlos Alexander as Dr Schön); other important singers of the title role have included Evelyn Lear, Teresa Stratas, Nancy Shade, Karan Armstrong, Julia Migenes, and Christine Schäfer.[5]

Helene Berg's death in 1976 paved the way for a new completed version of the opera to be made by Friedrich Cerha. There was insufficient time to have the score of this three-act version ready for the first production of the work at the Metropolitan Opera in April 1977 (in a production by John Dexter, with Carole Farley in the title role),[6][2] so the incomplete version had to be used. Published in 1979, the Cerha completion premiered on February 24 of the same year at the Opera Garnier and was conducted by Pierre Boulez, with Stratas singing the lead role; the production (by Patrice Chéreau) was a sensation and the recording won the Gramophone Award for 1979. On July 28th 1979, nearly forty-four years after Berg's death, Lulu (with Nancy Shade) was finally performed in its entirety in the USA at Santa Fe.[2] The three-act version was rapidly taken up by other companies. The Metropolitan Opera first presented the work in complete form in December 1980, a performance since released on DVD.


Role[7] Voice type[7] Zurich Opera premiere,[8]
2 act version,
2 June 1937
(Conductor: Robert Denzler)
Paris Opéra premiere,[9]
3 act version,
24 February 1979
(Conductor: Pierre Boulez)
Lulu soprano Bahrija Nuri Hadžić Teresa Stratas
Countess Geschwitz mezzo-soprano Maria Bernhard Yvonne Minton
A high-school boy ("Der Gymnasiast") contralto Erika Feichtinger Hanna Schwarz
A theatrical dresser contralto Frida Kurz Hanna Schwarz
A groom contralto Hanna Schwarz
The painter, Lulu's second husband tenor Paul Feher Robert Tear
A negro tenor Robert Tear
Dr. Schön, editor-in-chief baritone Asger Stig Franz Mazura
Alwa, Dr Schön's son, a composer tenor Peter Baxevanos Kenneth Riegel
Schigolch, an old man bass Fritz Honisch Toni Blankenheim
The Doctor (" Der Medizinalrat"), Lulu's husband spoken Peter Poschl Toni Blankenheim
An animal tamer bass Albert Emmerich Gerd Nienstedt
The Athlete bass Albert Emmerich Gerd Nienstedt
The prince, a traveller in Africa /
The manservant /
The marquis
tenor Oscar Mörwald (role of Marquis not sung in 1937) Helmut Pampuch
The theatre manager bass Walter Frank Jules Bastin
The professor
A clown
A stagehand
silent Le Nain Roberto
A fifteen-year-old girl soubrette Daniele Chlostawa
Her mother contralto Ursula Boese
A woman artist mezzo-soprano Anna Ringart
The Banker bass Jules Bastin
A journalist baritone Claude Méloni
The police commissioner spoken Toni Blankenheim
A manservant baritone Pierre-Yves Le Maigat
Jack the Ripper baritone Franz Mazura
Pianist, stage manager, attendants of the prince, policemen, nurses, wardresses,
dancers, party guests, servants, workers
Berg specified that a number of cast members should take more than one role. Thus, the singers of Lulu's three husbands return as her clients while a prostitute: one performer each appears as the Doctor and the Professor,as the Painter and the Negro, and as Dr. Schön and Jack the Ripper. Other specified combinations are one mezzo-soprano as the Dresser, the Schoolboy, and the Groom; one tenor as the Prince, the Manservant, and the Marquis; one bass as the Animal Tamer and the Athlete, and another bass as the Theatre Manager and the Banker. Another aspect of the cast list that differs from Wedekind's original is that all characters in the two plays receive a proper name. Berg removed all of these names except for the five leading roles of Lulu, Schön, Alwa, Geschwitz and Schigolch. Some of Wedekind's other names have been sometimes applied to Berg's characters: for example the Athlete is often referred to as "Rodrigo Quast", but this name is nowhere to be found in the score.



A circus ringmaster introduces the various animals in his menagerie. The last is Lulu herself, who is carried on stage and introduced as a snake, tamed by human reason.

Act 1

Scene 1: In a painter's studio

The Painter is painting Lulu's portrait. Dr. Schön, a newspaper editor, is also present. Dr. Schön's son, Alwa, a musician, arrives. He excuses himself because he has to go to a rehearsal, and he and Dr. Schön leave. Alone with Lulu, the Painter makes heavy passes at her; she rejects him initially but then succumbs. Dr. Goll, an elderly professor of medicine who is Lulu's husband and calls her Nelly, unexpectedly arrives. He breaks the door down, finds Lulu together with the Painter, and dies of a heart attack. While the Painter goes to call a doctor, Lulu is left with her husband's corpse and reflects that she is now rich.

Scene 2: In Lulu's apartment

Lulu has married the Painter. He has been very successful since their marriage. She receives several pieces of mail from various admirers (one of them a woman) and a telegram announcing Dr. Schön's engagement, which seems to trouble her. She is visited by Schigolch, an asthmatic beggar who seems to have been featured in her past in an unspecified way. After showing him out, Dr. Schön arrives and refers to Schigolch as Lulu's father. (However, in Act 2, Schigolch categorically denies being Lulu's father in an exchange with the Athlete and the Schoolboy, adding the comment "She has never had one yet.") Dr. Schön asks Lulu to stay out of his life from now on, since he is engaged and it would be scandalous for them to see each other socially. A heated discussion ensues which is interrupted by the Painter. Lulu leaves in a huff. Dr. Schön tells the Painter about his affair with Lulu. He reveals that he has known her since she was 12 years old, and informs the Painter about various other sordid details of Lulu's life. The Painter is shocked that Lulu has concealed so much of her past from him and Schön insists he confront his wife about it. The Painter leaves, ostensibly to confront Lulu, but then horrible groans are heard offstage – he has locked himself in the bathroom. Alwa arrives with a message for Schön: revolution has broken out in Paris and Schön's newspaper is trying to cope with the flood of news. Alwa helps Dr. Schön break down the bathroom door, and all are horrified to see the Painter has cut his throat. Dr. Schön hopes the news will cover up the scandal. The police arrive as Lulu comments to Dr. Schön, "You will marry me after all."

Scene 3: In Lulu's dressing room in the theatre

Lulu is now working as a successful dancer. She is sitting in her dressing room with Alwa. The two discuss various things, including an African prince who wants to marry her. Lulu leaves to take the stage. Alwa contemplates writing an opera based on Lulu's life, but as he draws out the scenes he comes to the conclusion that they are too gruesome. Suddenly the alarm goes off and Lulu returns after having "fainted" on stage. In fact, she is refusing to continue because Dr. Schön and his fiancée are in the audience. Dr. Schön comes in to try to persuade her to perform. When the two are left alone, she tells Schön that she is thinking of leaving with the Prince for Africa. Dr. Schön realises that he cannot live without her. He is compelled by Lulu to write a letter to his fiancée breaking off the engagement. Lulu then leaves to continue with the show.

Act 2

Scene 1: In Lulu's house

Lulu has now married Dr. Schön, who is full of jealousy over her many admirers. One of them, the lesbian Countess Geschwitz, visits her to invite her to a ball, but leaves in the face of Dr. Schön's disapproval. Lulu tries to convince Schön to go out for a stroll but he refuses, because it is his day at the stock exchange. When the two go out, the Countess returns and hides. Dr. Schön also comes back and hides in a different place. Two other admirers, the Athlete and the Schoolboy, also enter, and all begin to talk to Lulu when she returns. When Alwa is announced, they all hide. Alwa and Lulu begin having lunch and Alwa declares his love for Lulu. Lulu confesses to Alwa while his head is in her lap that she poisoned his mother, but he does not react. Dr.Schön reveals himself, pushes Alwa from the room and begins a long argument with Lulu, during the course of which he discovers all her other admirers. He gives Lulu a revolver, and orders her to kill herself, but when the Schoolboy jumps out from under the table he is distracted and she shoots Schön. The police arrive to arrest her for murder despite her pleas to Alwa to let her remain free.


The interlude consists of a silent film (accompanied by Berg's palindromic score). In it, we see Lulu's arrest, trial, conviction and imprisonment. Then we see her deliberately contract cholera and be transferred to hospital. The Countess Geschwitz visits her, and the older woman gives Lulu her clothes, so Lulu can escape.

Scene 2: The same place as Scene 1, one year later

The Countess Geschwitz, Alwa and the Athlete are awaiting Schigolch, who will take the Countess to the hospital. She is going to sacrifice her own freedom by taking Lulu's place so that nobody will discover she has escaped until it is too late. The Athlete says he is going to marry Lulu and move with her to Paris where the two will work in an act together. Schigolch arrives and asks for a breath. Before she leaves, Alwa offers the Countess money to cover her expenses but she refuses, and leaves with Schigolch. Alwa and the Athlete begin an argument but are interrupted by the Schoolboy who has just broken out of prison and has also devised a scheme to free Lulu. Alwa and the Athlete lie to him by saying that Lulu is dead and he leaves heartbroken. Lulu arrives looking very pale and weak from her illness. The Athlete is disgusted at seeing her in this state, abandons his plan and goes off saying that he will summon the police instead. But Lulu has been play-acting in order to get rid of him. Schigolch goes to buy train tickets. Left alone with Alwa, Lulu seduces him again. They declare their love for each other and agree to go away together. She asks him "Isn't this the sofa on which your father bled to death?"

Act 3

Scene 1: In Lulu's luxurious house in Paris

A grand party is taking place at Lulu's house in Paris. The magnificent performance of Jungfrau Railway shares, in which most of the guests at the party have put all their money, is the main topic of discussion. Lulu is being blackmailed by the Marquis who wants to sell her to a Cairo brothel. She is still wanted for Dr. Schön's murder in Germany and the Marquis threatens to turn her in if she does not meet his demands. The Athlete is also blackmailing her. When Schigolch arrives, asking for money, Lulu collapses in despair. They agree to lure the Athlete to a hotel where Schigolch will murder him. Lulu then convinces the Countess to lure the Athlete there. Lulu goes off to prepare her escape, as the police are on the way. News arrives that the railway shares have crashed. Everyone is ruined. The party quickly breaks up. Lulu has changed clothes with a young waiter and leaves, dragging Alwa behind her. The police arrive to recapture her and mistake the waiter for Lulu, giving her time to escape.

Scene 2: In Lulu's room in London

Lulu and Alwa are now living with Schigolch in poverty and are on the run. It is Lulu's first day of work as a prostitute. She arrives with a client, a creepy professor (played by the actor who played Dr. Goll, Lulu's first husband). The Countess Geschwitz then arrives with the portrait of Lulu which she has brought from Paris. Alwa hangs it on the wall. Lulu is disturbed at seeing the portrait and rushes from the room, followed by Geschwitz. In time Lulu returns with another client, the Negro (played by the singer who played the Painter, Lulu's second husband). He is angered at being asked to pay in advance, kills Alwa in a struggle, and leaves. Lulu rushes out in hysterics and Schigolch removes the body. Geschwitz returns and contemplates suicide, but is interrupted by Lulu who returns with a third client (played by the singer who played Dr. Schön, Lulu's third husband). Lulu seems drawn to him and eventually offers to give herself to him without payment. They go into the adjoining room. Geschwitz resolves to return to Germany to become a lawyer and work for women's rights, but she is interrupted by Lulu's death scream offstage. The client is Jack the Ripper, who emerges from the room and stabs Geschwitz as well, then leaves. The Countess declares her eternal love for Lulu and dies.


The work is scored for 3 flutes (all doubling on piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubles English horn), 3 clarinets in B-flat (1st and 2nd doubling E-flat clarinet), bass clarinet in B-flat, alto saxophone in E-flat, 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in C, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion (8 players), timpani, piano, harp and strings.

The onstage jazz band in I iii (which can be drawn from the pit players) consists of: 3 clarinets in Bb; bass clarinet in Bb; alto saxophone in Eb; tenor saxophone in Bb; contrabassoon; 2 "Jazz trumpets" in B; 2 Jazz trumpets in C; 2 Jazz trombones; Sousaphone; jazz drum set (3 players); banjo; piano; 3 violins with jazz horns; contrabass.[7] In III i Cerha's edition uses a smaller onstage ensemble that includes piccolo; flute; 3 clarinets & bass clarinet; ...Contrabassoon...

It is the work that introduced into the orchestra of Western art music the vibraphone, an instrument that was previously solely associated with jazz.[10]


Centre-point of the palindrome in act 2

The large-scale structure of Lulu is often said to be like a mirror – Lulu's popularity in the first act is mirrored by the squalor she lives in during act 3, and this is emphasised by Lulu's husbands in act 1 being played by the same singers as her clients in act 3.

This mirror-like structure is further emphasised by the film interlude at act 2 at the very centre of the work. The events shown in the film are a miniature version of the mirror structure of the opera as a whole (Lulu enters prison and then leaves again) and the music accompanying the film is an exact palindrome – it reads the same forwards as backwards. The centre-point of this palindrome is indicated by an arpeggio played on the piano, first rising, then falling (shown here on the top staff).

The tone rows

Cell z (also one of the basic cells in Béla Bartók's String Quartet No. 4) is the basic cell of Lulu and generates Trope I:[11]

The two non-identical forms of Trope I, each generated from all even or odd forms of cell z

Although some of Lulu is freely composed, Berg also makes use of his teacher Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique. Rather than using one tone row for the entire work, however, he gives each character his or her own tone row, meaning that the tone rows act rather like the leitmotifs in Richard Wagner's operas.

Berg's Lulu basic tone row[12] on C

From this one tone row, Berg derives tone rows for many of the characters. For example, the tone row associated with Lulu herself is: F, G, A, B, C, D, F, D, E, A, B, C. This row is constructed by extracting one note (F) from the basic row's first trichord, then taking the next note (G) from the basic row's second trichord, then taking the third note (A) from the basic row's third trichord, and so on, cycling through the basic row three times.

Berg's Lulu Alwa tone row[12] on C

The tone row associated with Alwa is arrived at by repeating the basic tone row over and over and taking every seventh note;

Derivation of Alwa series from basic series by taking every seventh note from repetitions of the basic series.[13]

this results in the following tone row: B, F, E, G, F, B, E, D, A, C, C, G

Berg's Lulu Dr. Schön tone row[12] on C

Similarly, the tone row associated with Dr. Schön is arrived at by repeating the basic tone row (as in the previous example) and taking the first note, missing one note, taking the next, missing two, taking the next, missing three, taking the next, missing three, taking the next, missing two, taking the next, missing one, taking the next, missing one, taking the next, missing two, taking the next, and so on; This results in the following tone row: B, E, G, G, D, F, E, A, B, C, F, C

Berg's Lulu Schoolboy tone row[12] on C



  1. ^ Alban Berg and the BBCNicholas Chadwick,
  2. ^ a b c d Huscher, Phillip, The Santa Fe Opera: An American Pioneer, Santa Fe: The Santa Fe Opera, 2006, pp. 112–114: "What Santa Fe presented in 1963, as did the Zurich Opera, which gave the world premiere in 1937, was a great, tantalizing torso: two complete acts plus fragments of a third." ISBN 0-86534-550-3. ISBN 978-0-86534-550-8.
  3. ^ Goldsmith, Melissa Ursula Dawn, "Alban Berg's filmic music: Intentions and extensions of the film music interlude in the opera Lulu," (Ph.D. diss., Louisiana State University, 2002)
  4. ^ Kobbé, Gustave. Kobbé's Complete Opera Book, ed Harewood. Putnam, London & New York, 1954, p986.
  5. ^ a b 'Alban Berg: Lulu'. In: Kaminski, Piotr. Mille et Un Opéras. Fayard, 2003, p91.
  6. ^ Jacobson, Robert (1977). "Lulu's Last Stand: Jack the Ripper". Opera News 41 (2): 28. 
  7. ^ a b c "Alban Berg – Lulu – Opera in 3 acts". Universal Edition AG Vienna. Retrieved 10 October 2010. 
  8. ^ "Almanacco 2 June 1937" (in Italian). AmadeusOnline. Retrieved 10 October 2010. 
  9. ^ "Almanacco 24 February 1979" (in Italian). AmadeusOnline. Retrieved 10 October 2010. 
  10. ^ Blades, James, Percussion Instruments and Their History, fourth edition (Westport: Bold Strummer, 1992): 409, 416. ISBN 0-933224-71-0 (cloth); ISBN 0-933224-61-3 (pbk).
  11. ^ Perle, George (1996). Twelve-Tone Tonality, p. 14. ISBN 0-520-20142-6.
  12. ^ a b c d Whittall, Arnold. 2008. The Cambridge Introduction to Serialism. Cambridge Introductions to Music, p. 81. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-68200-8 (pbk).
  13. ^ Pople, Anthony (1991). Berg: Violin Concerto, p.22. ISBN 0-521-39976-9.

External links

  • (German) Discography
  • Discography
  • (German) Lulu opera
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