Lulu
  • Alban Berg. Opera in a prologue and three acts. 1935.
  • Third act completed by Friedrich Cerha in 1978.
  • Libretto by the composer, after the plays Erdgeist (Earth-Spirit) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box) by Franz Wedekind.
  • First performance of the first two acts at the Stadttheater, Zurich, on 2nd June 1937.
  • First complete performance at the Paris Opéra on 24th February 1979.
CHARACTERS
Lulu high soprano
Gräfin Geschwitz dramatic mezzo-soprano
Theatrical Dresser contralto
Schoolboy contralto
Groom contralto
Professor of Medicine speaking part
Banker high bass
Professor silent role
Painter lyric tenor
Negro lyric tenor
Dr Schön, a newspaper editor heroic baritone
Jack the Ripper heroic baritone
Alwa, son of Dr Schön, a composer heroic tenor
Schigolch, an old man high character bass
Animal-Tamer bass
Rodrigo, an athlete bass
The Prince, a traveller in Africa tenor
Manservant tenor
The Marquis tenor
Theatre Manager basso buffo
Clown silent role
Stagehand silent role
Police Commissioner speaking part
Young Girl soubrette soprano
Her Mother contralto
Woman Artist mezzo-soprano
Journalist high baritone
Manservant lower baritone

In a prologue the animal-tamer introduces his menagerie, with the snake and Lulu the last to appear. The first act opens in the Painter’s studio, where Lulu is having her portrait painted, watched by Dr Schön, who is taken by his son Alwa to see a new ballet. Lulu is seduced by the Painter and when her husband, the Professor of Medicine, arrives he suffers a heart attack and dies. In the second scene Lulu and the Painter are prosperously married. Old Schigolch calls, a figure from Lulu’s past, perhaps her father. He goes and Dr Schön comes in. He tells the Painter of Lulu’s past, causing him to cut his throat. The police are called and Lulu promises to marry Dr Schön. The third scene is set in a theatre dressing-room. Alwa is with Lulu, as she changes for her performance, and she tells him of the proposal she has had from the Prince, who wants to take her to Africa. She is angry when she sees Dr Schön in the audience with his fiancée. She forces him to break off his engagement. Now married to Dr Schön, she still has lovers, including the lesbian Countess Geschwitz. In her husband’s absence she entertains the Athlete, a Schoolboy and Schigolch, all of whom declare their love for her, followed by Alwa. Dr Schön has returned and brandishes a gun, but Lulu, claiming that he always knew what she was, shoots him. In an interlude she is arrested, tried, imprisoned, to be released through the agency of Countess Geschwitz and now the object of Alwa’s declarations of love. Lulu’s downfall begins in Paris, where she is blackmailed by the Athlete and by the Marquis. The failure of Jungfrau Railway shares brings financial ruin to everyone. Lulu persuades Geschwitz to spend the night with the Athlete. In London Lulu works as a prostitute, awaited by Alwa and Schigolch, as she returns with her first customer, the Professor. Countess Geschwitz appears, with Lulu’s portrait from the first scene of the opera, a symbol of her beauty and its effect on all of them. Lulu’s second customer is the Negro, who kills Alwa in an argument over money. Her third is Jack the Ripper, to the sound of material connected with Dr Schön. He kills Lulu and then stabs the Countess to death.

Berg’s opera makes use of 12-note serial technique, shaped to his own purposes, in a number of more or less conventional forms, sonata, rondo, variation and so on. Lulu herself is seen differently by the various people with whom she has contact, and the opera traces her rise and fall in more or less symmetrical halves. Berg died in 1935, leaving the third act sketched but not completed. Various early attempts to finish the work came to nothing, leading Berg’s widow to forbid any use of the remaining sketches. It was not until 1979, three years after her death, that it proved possberlible to stage the whole work, completed by Friedrich Cerha. The work as a whole lacks the clear formal unity of Berg’s earlier opera Wozzeck, its episodic structure dictated by the dramatic material on which it is based. For Wedekind and for Berg Lulu embodies amoral female sexuality. Wedekind’s first play, Erdgeist, takes Lulu’s progress up to the killing of Dr Schön, while the second, Die Büchse der Pandora, traces her relationship with Countess Geschwitz, her work as a prostitute and her death. Dramatically Lulu is powerful and demanding.