Becoming Lulu

Classic Arts Features   Becoming Lulu
Marlis Petersen brings her celebrated portrayal of Berg's heroine back to the Met in William Kentridge's production: her final performances of her signature role.

This is the tenth new production of Lulu you've starred in. What makes you want to revisit this character again and again?

It's like Pandora's box somehow. It's a source of neverending information about the fate of a woman. When I started, it was fascination with a young, ungraspable child who's just beginning to live. Now that I have a deeper sense of her, it's more about the psychology of what happens in her relationships and about the terrible fate she has. For me, it's also fascinating to see how every different director deals with this. It stays new for me.

How much does your portrayal change from production to production? Is there a core of the character that always remains the same?

I think I have a certain Lulu seed in me, a kind of understanding. But when I encounter a director, I have to sort of erase everything I know and melt into that particular concept. Some directors go deep into the psychology of this woman. Some see it very visually: like William Kentridge, of course. All these different elements add up to a big kaleidoscope of Lulu pieces that I've been collecting over the last 18 years.

Tell us about your approach to the music.

Berg himself said he imagined a light, Mozartian voice for Lulu. So I try to keep it very close to a classical tone, which also makes it easier to understand the text. For me, it's not so much about the sound, it's about the parlando, the "speaking" style of singing. The first act especially has a lot of parlando and coloratura. The second is more lyrical, and the third has lots of dramatic eruptions, until it ends with this beautiful death music. But overall I try to stick very closely to a classic tone, so it's easier to follow for the audience and becomes more like a play.

You sing a wide range of music, from Baroque to 21st century. How does Lulu compare to other operas in your repertoire?

I've been singing it for such a long time that the music feels implanted in my vocal cords. It's something between Konstanze [in Die Entf‹hrung aus dem Serail], a very demanding coloratura role, and a lot of clever economy you need in order to not get tired. Berg used the 12-tone technique in a way that's very different from Schoenberg. There's still a late-Romantic touch to it. Lulu really has everything: a little Mozart, the Romantic, the contem- porary. It's somewhere in between all of this, like a big melting pot.

Is it true you'll be retiring the role after this production?

Yes, it will be my final Lulu ever. In my last production, I accidentally bumped into a glass wall that was part of the set: and when these things happen you think, "Okay, it's time to say goodbye!" I'm really looking forward to this production, and for me, it's a great gift that New York will be my last one. : Philipp Brieler

For the full interview, visit

Today’s Most Popular News: