Opera Reviews
20 March 2019
Untitled Document

An extraordinary Wozzeck

by Moore Parker
Berg: Wozzeck
Theater an der Wien
21 October 2017

Austria is currently graced by three greatly distinctive - but equally important - Wozzeck productions with the Vienna State Opera, Salzburg Festival, and most recently Theater an der Wien featuring Berg’s first operatic work in their repertoire.

Robert Carsen’s concept for Vienna’s NEW OPERA HOUSE (as labelled by the company) is the least complex of the three - but by no means the least effective.

Claustrophobically shrouded in a military environment with sets and costumes all carrying typical camouflage patterns, a single construction (Gideon Davey) simply comprises two angled symmetrical walls with apertures, linked by a series of wires suspending curtains which are drawn or raised to create the desired space. Thus, the numerous scene changes are achieved discretely and succinctly.

Elements surprise or even shock, such as Wozzeck’s consultation with the Doctor in which the patient is seated with exposed buttocks to the audience on an adult-sized potty-chair, to later provide a sample stool for medical inspection. His duties include cleaning the Hauptmann’s shoes - an act that culminates in ultimate degradation in Act 2 Scene 2 when the Doctor hands Wozzeck a banknote to remove dog faeces from the Hauptmann’s shoe sole. 

Marie, wretched and unkempt (with ripped stockings, exposed cleavage and needle-bruised arms) draws a syringe and shoots-up to perfect timing with a moment of elation in Berg’s score. 

At the close, Wozzeck is forced to manoeuvre his way between  apparent combatant corpses and lines of cross-wires to seek his own demise - only for the soldiers to rise and dutifully prepare for the next alternation.

Wozzeck and Marie’s little boy (here, wonderfully focused and touchingly played) has no hobby horse, but a soldier’s rifle between his legs for his Hopp, hopp! finale. 

Just some moments to illustrate Carsen’s’ artistic imagination and ability to prepare a highly-original interpretation, while respecting - indeed well-utilising - the composer’s score (all furthermore augmented by subtly-effective lighting by Carsen and Peter van Praet) to create the impression of a true Gesamtkunstwerk.
The entire cast evidently enjoyed such consummate guidance - with the only slight reservation being Act 2’s tavern scene, which appeared a touch contrived.
In the title role, Florian Boesch maintains a rigid balance of endurance yet abjectness, resembling a overtaut coil spring that inevitably rips. There is no sentimentality to the figure - here is simply a resolute casualty who periodically breaches his robotic bonds in outcry. Exemplary in diction and vocal prowess, this is a reading of true command.

This Marie’s release is destined to be determined by a needle or a blade, and indeed the latter option is explicitly illustrated full-front upstage with a gruesome slash to her throat. Lise Lindstrom brings a capital reputation to her house debut as an intense singing-actress, with Turandot and Salome among her international conquests. Her Marie is equally credible, well meeting the vocal challenges and particular focus on the text involved, cold and resigned - and somehow beyond sympathy - with her fate already sealed.
Another fine role in the soprano’s operatic stable.

John Daszak’s searing and unusually sadistic Hauptmann and Stefan Cerny’s incontrovertible and vocally imposing Doctor are both first-class, while as the Tambourmajor, Aleš Briscein half-nakedly parades a particularly machoistic figure (with none of the bufforesque prancing often seen) who flaunts his conquest of Marie in the soldiers’ dormitory while waving a pair of panties that he ultimately forces over Wozzeck’s head to close the scene.

Juliette Mars is strongly cast as a slinky, feisty Margret, while the Arnold Schoenberg Chor appear in their element, both musically and in the staging.

The venue’s size determined a reduced orchestra - interestingly, more intense and certainly more intimate than typical, with the Wiener Symphoniker performing impeccably and with striking nuance and subtlety under the guidance of maestro Leo Hussain.  

This was an extraordinary performance, which concluded in a period of stunned silence in the darkened auditorium before the first pair of hands initiated the frenetic reception deserved.

Text © Moore Parker
Photo © Werner Kmetitsch
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