Lulu is bold and amoral, her character proud and unflinching through the events of 50s, 60s and 70s America, where Scottish Opera and The Opera Group’s Amercian Lulu is set. Siren-like, she bewitches then toys with the men (and women) who sail too close to her spell, before her past ultimately catches up with her (“she is killed”, as the programme synopsis rather bluntly puts it).
And sadly, by the time Lulu meets her maker, what has come before has lacked the emotional subtlety or depth of characterisation to make us care very much at all. Despite Magda Willi’s evocative jazz club staging and Guy Hoare’s innovative lighting and animation effects, American Lulu is a one-dimensional affair with too many patchy moments. Vocally, Angel Blue’s turn as the doomed heroine is excellent, and Jacqui Dankworth’s performance as Eleanor is a gloriously seductive purr. The male cast sing more than competently — though their attempts at American accents could perhaps have been better left in their dressing rooms.
Olga Neuwirth’s update of Alban Berg’s opera (in turn based on Frank Wedekind’s play) sets things amidst the racial struggles and tensions of the time, but puzzlingly this is sidelined to little more than a few recorded soundbites from Martin Luther King or one brief sequence where Lulu joins the March on Washington. It feels a little like a wasted opportunity, especially when the remainder of the plot — concerning Lulu’s tangled relationships — has ample space to take more.
Musically, the Scottish Opera orchestra cope well with Neuwirth’s atonal, filmic score, though it could use a little more passion and appeal, lacking much in the way of motif or refrain. And although there is enough — thanks mostly to Angel Blue’s strong central performance — to hold the attention, American Lulu feels ultimately as cold and detached as its heroine.