17 November 2015 at 12.21pm | Comment on this article
The Story Begins...
Lulu, born in poverty, is groomed for prostitution as a young girl. She escapes from a string of abusive lovers, leaving corpses in her wake. She moves from Paris to Cairo and finally to London, where she meets her final lover – Jack the Ripper.
Anarchic Street Opera
Martyn Jacques founded the ‘anarchic Brechtian street opera trio’ The Tiger Lillies in 1989. The band has gone on to establish a worldwide following of diverse audiences – drawn to The Tiger Lillies’ dangerously different sound, which references cabaret, vaudeville, gypsy music and grunge. The innate theatricality of The Tiger Lillies’ style has made theatre productions a natural extension of their work, starting with the highly acclaimed Shockheaded Peter, based on Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter tales, and followed by such shows as Hamlet, Freakshow, Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Lulu – a Murder Ballad.
In Lulu – a Murder Ballad, The Tiger Lillies follow in a long line of artists directly inspired by the alluring, unknowable Lulu, the creation of German playwright Frank Wedekind. In his plays Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box Wedekind tracks Lulu’s ascent and final gruesome demise. The ambiguity of his depiction has inspired countless reinterpretations – most famously, G.W. Pabst’s film Pandora’s Box, which made the career of its star Louise Brooks, and Berg’s unfinished opera Lulu. For Jacques, who wrote the text and music for Lulu – a Murder Ballad, ‘All I can say is I have profound sympathy for the one person who has no choice: Lulu’. But for dancer Laura Caldow, who plays Lulu, ‘in a way, she’s a victim – but I think she’s also complicit in her fate’.
A Kind of Reality
Lulu sees The Tiger Lillies reunite with visual director Mark Holthusen, who worked on Rime of the Ancient Mariner. As with that show, in Lulu Holthusen uses projections to create a shifting series of tableaux, providing a spectacular backdrop to The Tiger Lillies and Caldow. Holthusen explains how ‘with this show I tried to really base it in a kind of reality – I went back to the original play and looked at the stage setting and tried to put Lulu in the places she would be, so our dancer Laura had a place to be while Martyn reflected on the different characters in the play’.
Great Storytelling through Music
Lulu – a Murder Ballad was commissioned in 2014 by Opera North Projects, which aims to bring together classical and contemporary arts. Dominic Gray, Projects Director, explains how ‘the story of Lulu has this very episodic feeling to it – so the idea of The Tiger Lillies writing a set of songs is perfect really. Over the last two, three years we’ve got very interested in how song and projected or still image can work together to make a new kind of opera... Jacques’s music is clearly on the narrative all the time, every musical note, every word that Martyn sings is about this story. Opera is great storytelling told through the medium of music and I think that’s what Lulu – a Murder Ballad is’.
The Tiger Lillies: Lulu – a Murder Ballad runs 23–28 November 2015. Limited tickets are available for some performances.
The production was commissioned by Opera North and is a co-production between Opera North, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Warwick Arts Centre. Opera North gratefully acknowledges financial support from PRS for Music Foundation.