Posts Tagged ‘Berg’s Wozzeck’

Alban Berg’s is a monumental work, but not in a Wagnerian way. Its structural complexity is so subdued and integrated in its expressive content that one may enjoy  the experience of listening to it by only sensing without fully understanding its formal sophistication. I, for instance, cannot honestly offer here a profound analysis of how clearly the subject of the fugue in act 2, scene 2, was stated in this evening’s performance, but I can tell you that Vladimir Jurowski never failed to understand and to share with the audience the musical-dramatic purpose of every phrase in this score. At his service, a virtuosistic Vienna Philharmonik offering throughout sounds of extreme beauty and so eloquent that you could always hear its “discourse”. As when this orchestra (actually, the Vienna State Opera Orchestra) played this work for Claudio Abbado (as seen on video with Hildegard Behrens and Franz Grundheber), some may say that the Viennese tend to perform it in almost Mahlerian poise, but I could bet that Alban Berg, who was Viennese himself, would rather expect it to sound that way.

No singer in the cast could compete with the orchestra in terms of expression, even if we have in mind that Matthias Goerne had the title role. I remember an interview with José van Dam in which he mentioned a conversation with Herbert von Karajan about the role. The Austrian conductor would say that there was no violence in Van Dam’s voice and that one would need a “baritone Jon Vickers”  to make the role justice. As it is, Mr. Goerne has many advantages for this tricky part – the voice has appeal, the diction is crystal-clear, the tonal variety is that of a Lieder singer and he masters the art of Sprechgesang with naturalness. But the raw energy (and the volume and the projection) is not there, making the transition of yes-man into murderer hard to believe. This might not have been a coincidence: scenically, this transition was not evident. One could see a directorial choice there: as much as Marie and Wozzeck’s son seems to find his mother’s death a banality, it seems that violence does not need really need a reason. South African director/painter William Kentridge directed Büchner’s play for the marionette theatre adapted to that country’s social context in the earlier days of his career. And one can stil see the puppet handled by forces beyond comprehension (although highly rationalized in discourse) in his Wozzeck.

Asmik Grigorian is an edgy Marie both in terms of her metallic and forceful singing and of the way she does not try to romanticize her character. She just lets herself be played out of sheer boredom and frustration. Gerhard Siegel too was a powerful Captain, sometimes recklessly so, what had the advantage of making his singing even more characterful. Although I had seen Jens Larsen in more resonant voice, his dramatic focus and firmness of tone added some menace to the role of the Doctor, which can seem too comic in other hands. I was not so convinced by the other tenors in the cast. In spite of a pleasant tonal quality, John Daszak lacked the alpha male quality this role cries for. As for Mauro Peter, the unfocused high register would not hits home for someone who learned the role of Andres with Fritz Wunderlich in Karl Böhm’s recording.

Predictably, Mr. Kentridge’s staging has a strong visual appealing in its textures inspired by charcoal drawings and stunning lighting effects. This was a compelling take on Büchner and Berg’s social drama, thought-provoking but not “invasive” in terms of Dramaturgie.

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Wozzeck is no Rosenkavalier, but the lush, late Romantic sonorities James Levine brings to Alban Berg’s masterpiece suggested a wide emotional spectrum that ultimately failed to deliver any particular thrill. The rich strings, the smooth brass sonorities, they seemed to serve no particular objective other than making a “difficult” work user-friendlier. However, the Karajanesque sonic narcissism turned out as somewhat monotonous, as fulness of sound ultimately had a big advantage on clarity.

Although Waltraud Meier’s unglamourously sexy tonal quality works well for Marie, she had to negotiate her high notes very carefully and what she could do was often thin and sometimes below true pitch. Alan Held deserves praise for for his hard work and involvement. Yet there is a difference between a carefully rehearsed and a powerful, legitimate interpretation. Among singers int this opera’s difficult minor roles, Gerhard Siegel proved to be the more reliable. His tenor is firm and forceful and his diction is very clear. Stuart Skelton seemed to find the role of the Drum Major too high and Walter Fink sounded basically unfocused.

Mark Lamos’s 1997 production for the Met does not seem to have any purpose other than providing images in elegant colors as background to the music. I could not find any insight from the director in this rather sterile staging.

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