Need to admit a gap in my opera education: it was my first Alban Berg opera live, – since MetHD does not count, and first Wozzeck ever. Probably, each opera comes to the exploration path in its right time, so I have not built any specific expectations except general knowledge and some excerpts seen and heard before. In additioon, I have listened to some podcasts and conductor introductions, noting that everyone emphasizes significance of the work changing 20th century operatic landscape. There were also some last minute insights on staging and design, which correlated with previously seen William Kentridge style as seen in Lulu and The Nose.
The plot of the opera is based on the play created by Georg Büchner (1837) 80 years before Alban Berg converted the text into opera. Despite this gap in time, the story of common people “exploited and tormented by all the world” fighting for their survival and being oppressed by socially higher standing class, in the situation amplified with war and destitution, has become even more important. It took 5 years for Berg to compose the opera, and 3 more years to see it first produced at the Berlin State Opera in 1925.
Even if the score is based on atonality, it is not for the sake of it, but rather the dissonance is the state of the storyline, and certainly it influences perception and focus of the listener. The distortion in music just illustrates conflict and torment of the protagonists, and also reflects composers’ own challenges and painful memories as a soldier at the World War.
The opera is composed as a sketchbook, comprising 15 short scenes,and runs for 90 minutes without intermission – thus keeping concentrated dramatism to the heartwrenching finale of triple tragedy of Wozzeck, Marie and their child.
Wozzeck as main protagonist is novel approach in the opera since focuses on internal world of the simple soldier, a common person. He has been oppressed all his life, made angry to the whole world, and desperate to find escape. Tormented by many, traumatised by war, he is also delusional – seeing and hearing things, imagining – like in the second scene with Andres. Even Marie says: “poor man! So haunted! .. he’ll go mad with all there visions!”. They both condemn themselves repeating: “wretches like us”..
Matthias Goerne as main protagonist Wozzeck has sung properly all the notes of this utmost difficult score, while I was looking for more explicit dramatism in his character build-up, rather than angry, introvert persona.
Marie is intented as collective character portrayal – dependant, frustrated and succumbing to temptation for better life. She is desperate to get away from the situation which is partially self-imposed. Her child, even as unanimated puppet, is both her love and hatred. Asmik Grigorian confirmed that the prize International Singer of the Year has been awarded to the right artist – her vocal palette encompasses ability for long lyrical lines, piercing cries for despair and harsh spoken text, building up versatily, engaging portrayal of her heroine. She indisputably conquered the hearts of the audience and was a star of the night.
John Daszak surprised again – he has admirable versatility of voice and dramatic talent! I have recently seen him in Munich playing Alviano Salvago in Die Geseichneten, where he surprised both by vocal and acting capabilities, and now he has built so lively and engaging Tambourmajor – attracting attention not only with his bright stage costume!
The staging by William Kentridge was carrying the same characteristic approaches as seen before in The Nose and Lulu. Probably my high viewpoint distorted some intended effects, but the overall impression of dark, dissonant environment with hidden participants creeping around was well married to the musical score. Some of the stage props, especially piles of chairs to be carried around did not get through to me, – while multilayered video projection were used effectively.
The contribution of the Wiener Philarmoniker under baton of Vladimir Jurowski was extraordinary – great reading of the score and sensitivity supporting singers, creating unforgetabble musical experience.
The ensemble consists of extensive group of extras, chorus, children chorus, thus the stage was very crowded for the curtain calls. There were no boos for the creative team, a lot of loud Bravi! for the cast and enthusiastic applause throughout the House of Mozart.
The production will further go to The Met, Toronto and Opera Australia, so it was a priviledge to see it on premiere night here in Salzburg.
Alban Berg • Wozzeck
Salzburger Festspiele, Haus für Mozart
Premiere, August 8th, 2017
Vladimir Jurowski, Conductor
William Kentridge, Director
Luc De Wit, Co-Director
Sabine Theunissen, Sets
Greta Goiris, Costumes
Catherine Meyburgh, Video Compositor & Editor
Urs Schönebaum, Lighting
Kim Gunning, Video Operator
Matthias Goerne, Wozzeck
John Daszak, Drum Major
Mauro Peter, Andres
Gerhard Siegel, Captain
Jens Larsen, Doctor
Tobias Schabel, First Apprentice
Huw Montague Rendall*, Second Apprentice
Heinz Göhrig, Madman
Asmik Grigorian, Marie
Frances Pappas, Margret
Salzburger Festspiele und Theater Kinderchor
Wolfgang Götz, Children’s Chorus Master
Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus
Ernst Raffelsberger, Chorus Master
Angelika-Prokopp-Sommerakademie der Wiener Philharmoniker, Stage music