Life got bumpy but it's now back on track. During the craziness, I managed to drop a couple bucks on the Jeffrey Tate recording of Berg's Lulu. I haven't made it very far, but so far, it's kind of irritating. Patricia Wise has a luxuriant sound and the range for Lulu, but the intense animal magnetism required for the plot is missing (I imagine it's harder on a recording, but even on stage, the role is complicated enough that from a sheer sound standpoint, the character has to be magnetic). Also, the pitches are kind of sloppily handled, sigh. It makes me want to take another listen to the Reck recording of Acts 1 and 2 + suite. I remember Anat Efraty being a very compelling Lulu, but it's been at least since college that I've listened to it.
In a way, I think the approach to Lulu is symptomatic of what a friend calls a basic acting mistake: basing a character around adjectives rather than nouns. A mutual friend of hers and mine was participating in a (med school) production of the Vagina Monologues and was kind of wigged out about acting/being on stage. My friend (who at the time was in the 2nd year at Tisch) told her not to think about being "sexy" or "alluring" or any adjective because then the character dissipates and there's no believability, no cohesion. Instead, think of nouns. Med school friend decided that she wanted to be a motivational speaker (she was excellent). So the trouble with characters like Lulu who compel the sexual attentions of all the other characters tend to be incredibly fractured. And the sinuousness and gorgeousness and appeal built into the music is teased even further to the point of distortion. Indeed, I think this is a huuuuge problem. It's a big feature of Fleming's singing nowadays (in which the large architectural cohesion of the piece suffers at the highlighting of every damned note, genuine desire to communicate notwithstanding), but it's also nascent in a CD recital of Jan De Gaetani's that I was listening to in the car today -- aaaaand Danielle de Niese's performance of Poppea on the Glyndebourne DVD that was the partner purchase of the Lulu.
Poppea needs to be enormously sensuous and appealing. It's part of the plot. And Monteverdi's put it into the very bones of the music. But it's just completely overdone and isn't appealing at all -- rather like a stunning person who is just trying too damned hard and comes down on the side of looking incredibly desperate rather than tantalizing. There are people who seek out trainwrecks so as to capitalize on that desperation, but let's face it -- it's usually repellent (though maybe that's kind of a hot reading for how corrupt Nero and devastatingly disturbed Ottone are drawn to her, she who keeps no loyalties).
I have another thought arising from the musical side of the DVD and Raymond Leppard and all sorts of justifying practices/decisions encountered in classical music, but that'll be for tomorrah.