(Alex Ross's article appeared in the New Yorker, 1/23.)
Benjamin Franklin Wedekind, the iconoclastic author of “Spring Awakening” and the Lulu plays, had trouble deciding whether he was German or American. His parents, a gynecologist and a singer, were German expatriates who met and were married in San Francisco, then returned to Germany just before Wedekind was born in 1864. Although he never set foot in America, he purveyed a vaguely American style, going by Frank and adopting a streetwise look. Scholarship suggests that his attitude toward his lost homeland wavered between admiration and contempt: he prized the ideal of a free, open society, yet excoriated the greed and folly to which that society seemed prone. His work remains relevant. The Metropolitan Opera is presenting a new production, by the South African artist William Kentridge, of Alban Berg’s 1935 masterpiece “Lulu,” while Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s 2006 musical adaptation of “Spring Awakening” is back on Broadway, in a version by the Los Angeles company Deaf West. In both works, as in the source plays, characters speak of fleeing to America as disaster looms. Countess Geschwitz, Lulu’s lesbian friend, proposes that they abscond across the ocean; the flailing schoolboy Moritz Stiefel begs for money to make the trip. America is the final illusion of sinking souls.
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