I made an executive decision to miss this awesomeness in DC for Lulu at the Met (the first matinee...oh, and I guess my family was there and stuff). And while I am still jonesin' bad for a hit of that sweet sweet Brewer earmagik, I was very happy to "do the deed" and get rid of this nagging Lulu virginity I've been harboring.
It's really just such a fantastic piece of music. While I felt Wozzeck (in the last Met outing) was wonderful musically, the drama feels subsumed by the symphony at times. Lulu on the other hand is all flesh and blood, with Berg's spectacular orchestration supporting moment after moment of pure OPERA.
The cast, as noted, was universally fine. Marlis Petersen sounded great and pulled off the trick I think must be central to an effective Lulu--maintaining that air of amoral cruelty right up until the excruciating pathos demanded by that horrific final scene. JMo towered over his scenes as Schoen and JtR, and Gary Lehman's massive tenor made for a consistently exciting Alwa. Luisi's conducting frequently "made clear" the beauty of Berg's score.
Good sign o' the times moment: in the fourth act, when the "humans are godforsaken animals" theme is extended to a bunch of 19th century financiers at a party screwing each other over on some stock market BS, there were HEARTY laughs from the audience. Choice laff line was something like: "We're bankers, we know what we're doing."
Maurizio Pollini was on at the Kennedy Center the following Wednesday, and those who know about that dutifully gathered to participate in the communal brain pleasuring. The program was all Chopin: played, not as wistful memories, but as something approaching modern art in immediacy and formal power. Pollini teases these pieces apart like a surgeon, separating muscle from bone so that one can see how they lie together.
Sometimes his manner can seem a bit cruel with slighter tissue. The simple mechanism of a mazurka in the first half could feel harangued by his probing treatment. But Pollini's interpretations reward those willing to play a deeper listening game--the effect at its best is cumulative rather than acute, an architectural beauty only fully appreciated when the last girder is snapped into place.
Oh, but give the man a substantial subject for dissection--the Sonata No. 3 which dominated the second half of the program was nothing short of transporting. His project--finding truth through the structure, emotional power through clarity, is clearly as vital as ever.
As Downey points out this was a somewhat disjointed program, a mixed bag of Chopin replacing the apparently planned complete Preludes + all Etudes in the second half. But just in case there's any confusion, we will take what we can get.
Just for kicks, here's Pollini on opera:
He closely examines the sources of pieces he plays. Chopin, he pointed out, changed the voicing of the final chords of the Second Ballade four times.Sounds about right.
"He was seeking perfection in every detail," Mr. Pollini said, fingering the different chords on the hotel coffee table. Was he the same way, Mr. Pollini was asked. "I'm not exactly like this, certainly," he answered. But he gave a clue about his attitude later, saying he did not go much to opera. "There are too many elements," he explained. "You are rarely satisfied. But if it succeeds, it is something absolutely phenomenal."