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Music review: American Lulu

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Edinburgh International Festival Scotsman review: American Lulu at the King’s Theatre, reviewed by Ken Walton

American Lulu

It’s easy to see why Olga Neuwirth’s American Lulu – a condensed reinterpretation of Alban Berg’s 1935 opera Lulu – has already undergone a revivalist production. This new version by John Fulljames, barely a year after the original in Berlin, may have sound intentions, but it struggles against a musical concept that stands its ground for the first two acts, but loses the plot in the third.

There’s a logical reason, given that Berg himself didn’t complete the last act – Friedrich Cerha did in the 1970s. But it’s at that final point in this co-production by The Opera Group, Scottish Opera, The Young Vic and Bregenzer Festspiele, where Neuwirth kicks in with a parodic style more akin to Peter Maxwell Davies.

The overall idea is sound – there’s no reason why the femme fatale figure of Lulu can’t transfer from Berg’s 1930s European setting to America against a backdrop of the civil rights movement. Thus the non-white casting of lustrous soprano Angel Blue as Lulu, and Jacqui Dankworth as a mic’d-up Eleanor, one of several altered characters from the original.

But while such glorious moments as the post-prison scene between Jimmy (Jonathan Stoughton) and Lulu lift this production, too many weak elements, like the thinning down of Berg’s densely emotional score, inconsistently played by the Scottish Opera Orchestra under Gerry Cornelius, and some iffy miscasting, leave it short of convincing.

Originally published in The Scotsman

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Nick is an Edinburgh-based writer and editor, covering music, culture and the latest over-hyped TV shows

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