The Met's "Lulu" is tailor-made for big screen HD

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NEW YORK >> William Kentridge hopes you'll get to see his production of "Lulu" in person at the Metropolitan Opera House — but if you can't make it, there may actually be an advantage to watching it in a movie theater.

The Met's HD broadcast will be shown live at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington and Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield. It will be repeated at 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 2.

"The HD is in one sense clearer, because the camera is directing what you see," the South African artist said in an interview the day his production of Alban Berg's opera opened to near-unanimous critical raves. "All opera is about excess in its very nature, and, it's true of this production in particular, when you're in the opera house you've got an overload."

Overload, indeed! In designing his production, Kentridge has created a dizzying array of black-and-white ink drawings projected on a screen behind the singers and sets to supplement the stage action.

We're treated to a constantly changing backdrop of caricatures, Rorschach inkblots, pages torn from newspapers and dictionaries, and glimpses of historical figures, from Hitler's favorite photographer, Leni Riefenstahl, to Berg himself and fellow composers Richard Strauss and Berg's mentor, Arnold Schoenberg.

What's more, Kentridge has invented two silent characters: a piano player with a Louise Brooks-style bob and a valet who, according to Kentridge, "serves as the figure of death." They provide a link between the characters in the opera and the projections on the screen.

"We worked carefully so you can follow the story very clearly," Kentridge said. "The editing process with the videos in rehearsal is always one of reduction, so what you'll see is much, much less than when we started the process. This is the calm version."

German soprano Marlis Petersen sings the title role of the legendary temptress who causes the downfall of numerous men — and one woman. Her celebrated portrayal has been seen at numerous opera houses, but after the Met run she plans to retire the role. "It's good to stop at a high point," Petersen told The New York Times. By contrast, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham is singing the role of the Countess Geschwitz, Lulu's lesbian admirer, for the first time. Also in the cast is baritone Johan Reuter as Dr. Schoen, tenor Daniel Brenna as his son, Alwa, and tenor Paul Groves as the painter. Lothar Koenigs conducts.

Berg began work on "Lulu" in 1929, adapting his own libretto from two plays by German dramatist Frank Wedekind and creating a score that is atonal yet at the same time lushly beautiful. But when he died in 1935, he had not completed work on the final act, and the Met's first production in 1977 used only the first two acts. That same year, the Austrian composer Friedrich Cerha completed the third act, based on Berg's notes, and that version is now the standard.

In the middle of Act 2, Lulu is arrested, imprisoned for murder, stricken with cholera and then escapes with the help of Geschwitz. All that is conveyed during a three-minute interlude written in the form of a musical palindrome: The orchestra reaches a peak midway through and then the music starts running backward, note-for-note the same, except in reverse. Following Berg's instructions, Kentridge illustrates this interlude with a live-action film shot in his studio.

ON SCREEN

What: "Lulu" by Alban Berg. Stage direction and design by William Kentridge

Who: The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD

When: Saturday at 12:30 (encore screening 12:30 p.m. Dec. 2)

Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, 14 Castle St., Great Barrington; Beacon Cinema, 57 North St., Pittsfield

Tickets: $25

How: Mahaiwe — (413) 528-0100; mahaiwe.org; at box office. Beacon — thebeaconcinema.com; at box office


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