Countess Geschwitz

Posted on October 10, 2010

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In Frank Wedekind’s Lulu plays – Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box – were written as a critique of bourgeois morals and sexuality. The central character, Lulu, runs through a series of husbands and lovers, betraying and being betrayed time and again.

The one person to truly love Lulu is her single female paramour, the Countess Geschwitz. Geschwitz goes to prison for Lulu in the first play, and follows her in her fall in the second, being murdered with Lulu in the end by Jack the Ripper. According to Wedekind, Geschwitz is the “tragic central figure of the play” showing “superhuman self-sacrifice” and spiritual strength in the face of the “terrible destiny of abnormality with which she is burdened.” That’s a lot to carry for a poor lesbian.

It certainly makes for an interesting character at least. And several key German artists transformed the play and Geschwitz into their own visions: in the famous silent G.W. Pabst film of Pandora’s Box starring the fascinating Louise Brooks, Geschwitz was played by Belgian actress Alice Roberts. Composer Alban Berg also created an opera, Lulu, which has become a part of the modern operatic canon, although it was unfinished at his death in 1935. Mezzo soprano Maria Bernhard created the role at the opera’s premiere, in Zurich in 1937. Geschwitz was the first true lesbian role in opera.

You can watch an excerpt from the finale of the opera with  Tanja Ariane Baumgartner playing the Countess Geschwitz at the Salzburg Festspiele in 2010 on the queercult Youtube channel, here. A recent DVD of Lulu with Jennifer Larmore as Geschwitz is also available on Amazon, here. As is the Pabst movie, here.

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