OPERA NEWS - Wozzeck
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BERG: Wozzeck

DVD Button Grigorian; Goerne, Siegel, Larsen, Daszak, Peter; Vienna Philharmonic, Jurowski. Production: Kentridge. Harmonia Mundi 9809053.54 (DVD & Blu-ray), 106 mins., subtitles

Recordings Wozzeck hdl 119
Goerne on my shoulder: with Grigorian in Salzburg
© Salzburger Festspiele/Ruth Walz
Recordings Wozzeck Cover 118
Critics Choice Button 1015

WORLD WAR I IMAGERY—soldiers, medics, crutches, gas masks, battlefield maps, zeppelins, searchlights, explosions—dominates William Kentridge’s 2017 Salzburg Festival production, bound for the Met in 2019–20. It links the soldier Wozzeck to composer Alban Berg, who in 1918 wrote to his wife, “There is a bit of me in his character, since I have been spending these war years just as dependent on people I hate, have been in chains, sick, captive, resigned, in fact, humiliated.”

Kentridge too is linked to the character, through a self-referential opening: before the music starts, Wozzeck cranks a projector that beams onto a screen film we recognize (from The Nose and Lulu) as Kentridge-like. Projections, which include period footage, animations and charcoal drawings, soon cover the set and its shifting maze of platforms, staircases and walkways. Such expressionism projects the characters’ anxiety and paranoia. 

Matthias Goerne, who sings Wotan now, is a vocally resonant Wozzeck whose face is like another screen, on which we read each emotion of this bullied, acutely sensitive Everyman. Take away the emotions, and the result would be something like Mauro Peter’s straight, untroubled Andres. As the Captain in the first scene, a plaintive Gerhard Siegel replaces the unrealistic trill at “wie eine Maus” with staccato notes like those of the accompanying violins, which is delightful. As the Doctor of this comedy-team-in-a-funhouse-mirror, Jens Larsen is plain of voice but rubber-faced, and both funny and scary. The rest of the cast is strong down the line.

Best of all is Asmik Grigorian’s fresh, athletic Marie, her gleaming sword of a soprano powerful and beautiful. She fiercely resists the Drum Major (at first) and Wozzeck at “Lieber ein Messer in den Leib, als eine Hand auf mich,” then relishes the tavern dancing with healthy-seeming amorality. At the pond in Act III, when the moon rises to the strings’ held Bs and trombone arpeggios, her cold eyes show that Marie knows her fate.

Anyone who thinks Wozzeck doesn’t have beautiful music should hear the Vienna Philharmonic under Vladimir Jurowski, especially the strings in Marie’s scenes. The crescendo on B leading into the second tavern scene is hair-raising, the great Interlude an eloquent threnody.

Kentridge dislikes focus thieves: this Wozzeck has no knife, no blood and no visible children. Wozzeck and Marie’s child is a puppet in a cap and a gas mask. One sees that its puppeteer and mothering medic looks uncannily like Marie, and it all comes together. The last thing we see in fading light is the pathetic puppet—a last war victim, or the next Wozzeck? —Mark Mandel



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