Lulu (opera)

unfinished opera by Alban Berg

Lulu is an opera by the composer Alban Berg. Berg took the story from two plays called Erdgeist and Die Büchse des Pandora by the German playwright Frank Wedekind. Berg wrote the libretto (the words for the opera) himself.

Many people found Lulu very shocking because the story is very decadent. There is a lot of blood, murder, sex and violence in it. Also: Berg’s music was quite difficult to understand. He uses twelve tone music, which is not in any particular key, although he uses it to make a style of music which is often very Romantic and expressive.



Berg started to write the opera in 1929, but then he stopped working on it to write his Violin Concerto. When Berg died, he had not finished the last act of the opera, he had only sketched it. Schoenberg was asked whether he would finish the opera, but he thought it would be too much work. When the opera was first performed in 1937 there were only two acts: the opera was unfinished. Berg’s widow, Helene, said that nobody was allowed to finish it and that it should stay unfinished. For more than 40 years, that is how the opera was performed.

When Helene died in 1976, a man called Friedrich Cerha finished the opera, guessing what Berg might have written. This completed version was performed in 1979 at the Opera Garnier, conducted by Pierre Boulez.

Famous sopranos who have sung the main part of Lulu include Teresa Stratas, Anja Silja and Christine Schäfer.

Premiere, June 2, 1937
(Robert Denzler)
Lulu dramatic soprano Nuri Hadzic
Countess Geschwitz dramatic mezzo-soprano Maria Bernhard
A High-school Boy ("Der Gymnasiast") contralto Feichtinger
A Theatrical Dresser
A Groom
The Banker high bass
The Painter, Lulu's second husband lyric tenor Paul Feher
A Negro lyric tenor
Dr Schön, editor-in-chief heroic baritone Asger Stig
Alwa, Dr Schön's son, a composer young heroic tenor Peter Baxevanos
Schigolch, an old man high character bass Schigolch
An Animal Tamer heroic buffo bass
Rodrigo, an athlete heroic buffo bass Emmerich
The Prince, a traveller in Africa /
The Manservant /
The Marquis
buffo tenor
The Theatre Manager low buffo bass
The Professor
A Clown
A Stagehand
The Police Commissioner
The Doctor, Lulu's husband
A Fifteen-year-old Girl opera soubrette
Her Mother contralto
A Woman Artist mezzo-soprano
A Journalist high baritone
A Manservant lower baritone
Jack the Ripper heroic baritone
Pianist, stage manager, attendants of the prince, policemen, nurses, wardresses,
dancers, party guests, servants, workers

The story


Prologue: A circus ringmaster introduces all his animals. The last one is Lulu herself, who is carried on stage and introduced as a snake.

Scene 1: Lulu, the wife of Dr. Goll, an old doctor, is having her portrait painted. Dr. Schön, a newspaper editor who rescued Lulu when she was living in the streets, is now having a love affair with her. Dr. Schön’s son Alwa arrives, excuses himself, and he and Dr. Schön leave. The Painter wants to make love to Lulu. Dr. Goll unexpectedly walks in, sees that the two of them are alone, collapses and dies of a heart attack.

Scene 2: Lulu has now married the Painter. She gets a telegram which says that Dr. Schön is engaged to be married. Schigolch, a tramp, visits her. He seems to have had something to do with her in the past. Dr. Schön arrives. He talks as if Schigolch is Lulu's father. He has come to ask Lulu to stay out of his life from now on. She takes no notice and leaves after her husband, the Painter, arrives. Dr. Schön tells the Painter about their affair, and says he must talk to his wife about it. The Painter leaves, but instead of going to talk to Lulu he cuts his own throat and dies. Lulu does not seem to care and simply tells Dr. Schön "You'll marry me all the same."

Scene 3: Lulu, working as a dancer, is sitting in her dressing room with Alwa. They talk about a Prince who is in love with Lulu and who wants to marry her. Lulu leaves to go on stage, but refuses to go on because Dr. Schön and his fiancée are in the audience. Dr. Schön comes in to try to persuade her to perform. When the two are left alone, she tells Schön that she is thinking of leaving with the Prince to go to Africa. Dr. Schön realises that he cannot live without her, and Lulu makes him write a letter to his fiancée saying that he does not want to marry her. Lulu carries on with the show.

Act II


Scene 1: Lulu has now married Dr. Schön, who is full of jealousy because so many men and one woman seem to love Lulu. One of them, the lesbian Countess Geschwitz, visits her to invite her to a ball, but leaves when Dr. Schön disapproves. When the two go out, the Countess returns and hides. Two other admirers, the Acrobat and the Schoolboy, also enter, and all begin to talk to Lulu when she returns. Alwa arrives, and the admirers hide as Alwa tells Lulu he loves her. Dr. Schön returns, sees the Acrobat, and begins a long argument with Lulu. Gradually he finds the other people who are hiding. He gives Lulu a revolver, and tells her to kill herself, but she shoots Schön instead. The police arrive to arrest Lulu for the murder.

Interlude: during the music of the interlude a silent movie is shown. In it, we see Lulu being taken by the police, tried in court, and put into prison. Then we see her deliberately getting the illness cholera and being taken to hospital. The Countess Geschwitz visits her, and gives her own clothes, so that Lulu can escape disguised as the Countess.

Scene 2: The Countess Geschwitz, Alwa and the Acrobat are in the same room as Act II, Scene 1. They are waiting for Schigolch, who is to take the Countess to the hospital. She is going to give up her own freedom by taking Lulu's place so that nobody will discover she has escaped until it is too late. The Acrobat says he is going to marry Lulu and move with her to Paris where the two will work in an act together. Schigolch leaves with the countess, then returns with Lulu, who is so ill from her disease that the Acrobat does not follow his plan, but goes off to get the police instead. Schigolch is sent off to buy train tickets, and, left alone, Alwa and Lulu say they love each other and agree to go away together.



Scene 1: Lulu and Alwa are now living in Paris. The scene is a party in a casino. Lulu is being forced by blackmail to work in a Cairo brothel by the Acrobat and a pimp. The police still want her for Dr. Schön's murder and the Acrobat and the pimp say to her that they will take her to the police if she does not do as they say. Schigolch arrives, asking for money. She is persuaded to lure the Acrobat away to a hotel and murder him. After they have gone, news arrives that the railway company has run out of money. The guests have all got money in the company. The party quickly breaks up, and in the confusion, Lulu manages to change clothes with a young man. She escapes with Alwa just before the police arrive to catch her.

Scene 2: Lulu and Alwa are now living with Schigolch. They are poor are in London so that the police cannot find them. Lulu is working as a prostitute. She arrives with a client, a professor (played by the same actor as Dr. Goll, Lulu's first husband). The Countess Geschwitz then arrives with a portrait of Lulu which she has brought from Paris. Alwa hangs it on the wall. Lulu goes out, and returns with another client, the Negro (played by the same actor as the Painter, Lulu's second husband). He refuses to pay before making love, and kills Alwa in a struggle. Schigolch takes the body away while Geschwitz thinks about killing herself, but then gives up the idea when she realises that Lulu does not care. Eventually, Lulu goes out and comes back with a third client (played by the same actor as Dr. Schön, Lulu's third husband). He argues over the price, and is about to leave when Lulu decides she will sleep with him for less than her usual fee. This client, who is actually Jack the Ripper, murders Lulu, and then on his way out kills the Countess as well, who swears her love to Lulu as the curtain comes down.



The shape of the whole opera is often said to be like a mirror – Lulu's popularity in the first act is mirrored by the poverty she lives in during Act III. Also, Lulu's husbands in Act I are played by the same singers as her clients in Act III. In the middle of the opera is the movie. Even some of the music is a palindrome (it reads the same forwards as backwards). This can be seen at the very middle of the Act II movie Interlude, when a piano plays a rising pattern of notes, which then reverses direction and falls.

Some of the characters have their own music which, in each case, is a theme made of twelve notes. This is the twelve-tone system which was invented by Berg’s teacher Arnold Schoenberg. By giving each character a theme, he is using the idea of a leitmotif, which was used a lot by Wagner. This can be heard in Scene I of Act II, when Lulu sings a dramatic solo telling Dr. Schön she has never pretended to be anything other than what she is. The first twelve syllables (If men have killed themselves for my sake...) that she sings are set to her leitmotif.