The operatic event of the season: Lyric Opera's stunning new production of Alban Berg's Lulu does full justice to the composer's masterly and intricate fusion of words and music. Based on the Lulu tragedies of Wedekind (the source also of Pabst's silent classic Pandora's Box, starring the unforgettable Louise Brooks), Berg's second and best opera conjures up an atmosphere so intensely sensual and perverse that it has come to epitomize the decadent 1920s Viennese society whose sham morality it satirizes and condemns. At its center is the childtemptress Lulu--an impossible tangle of emotions who provokes sexual fantasies in those around her and whose sordid descent is ultimately halted by Jack the Ripper. Very few sopranos have dared to tackle this complex role, with its jagged, almost shrieking vocal lines; Catherine Malfitano, Lyric's Lulu, not only meets the vocal challenge but is spellbindingly incandescent in her presence. Supporting her is a superlative cast that includes Jacque Trussel (as Alwa) and Evelyn Lear (as the lesbian countess Geschwitz). The inventive and provocative staging, with its emphasis on puppetlike movement and gesture, is the handiwork of Yuri Lyubimov, the controversial avant-garde director and recent Soviet emigre. Dennis Russell Davies conducts with a strong empathy for Berg's hallucinatory vision. Tonight, Tuesday, and next Saturday, December 19, 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker; 332-2244.