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BERG: Wozzeck

spacer W. Meier; Clark, Wottrich, Grundheber, von Kannen; Staatsopernchor, Staatskapelle Berlin, Barenboim. Production: Chéreau. EuroArts 2066758, 97 mins., subtitled


Director Patrice Chéreau has not done an enormous amount of work in opera, but his best-known project, the Bayreuth centennial production of Wagner's Ring (filmed in 1980), is available on video, as is a later production, Janáček's From the House of the Dead (filmed in Aix in 2007). This Wozzeck, filmed in Berlin in 1994, fills in the picture a bit more.

One of the few positive elements of the influx of stage directors into opera has been the presentation of even the smallest roles as deeply-considered characters. Here, Chéreau gives us an appropriately seen-it-all Margret, played by Dalia Schaechter. Marie's son, who has only twelve notes to sing, has been cast with a boy who is older than many in this role, so that he and Marie can have a real relationship. The two of them sit lost in thought in identical positions at the end of the third scene. Marie has been trying to be both mother and father to him, and he is old enough to be able to understand. The relationship of the Drum Major, well sung by Mark Baker, to Marie, is similarly detailed in a small amount of time. When she screams "Don't touch me!" to him at the end of Act I, he is ready to comply. But she then throws herself at him. This, however, causes him to lose interest in her for a moment; the game was too easily won.

Many of the scenes are played on a bare stage. (Wozzeck and Andres sweep it with push-brooms instead of doing their search for firewood.) Sometimes the singers address each other across distances in dialogue. Wozzeck even leaves the stage for a moment during his scene with the Captain. A few skeletal, interlocking rooms cruise around on occasion, but they are used mostly as a backdrop. This puts an enormous amount of pressure on the two main performers, who deliver the goods. Franz Grundheber, the Wozzeck, avails himself of every possible type of vocal expression, even draining every bit of life from his voice when he is trapped in Act II. He suffers a seizure in the Doctor's office, seemingly because he understands that the Doctor would be happy to study it. The end of his confrontation with Waltraud Meier's Marie in the central scene of Act II leaves both of them crumpled to the ground, exhausted and apart. They simply cannot fight any more. Thus when they sit next to each other on the lip of the stage just before the murder scene, the effect is especially creepy. Meier is attuned to every orchestral color, responding beautifully to the lushness in the middle of the Bible-reading scene. 

Although the sound quality is merely serviceable, it is still possible to hear how attentive conductor Daniel Barenboim is to balance. He also finds more of the subtle humor in the score than many conductors do, and he and Chéreau worked together to highlight the listless quality in the tavern music. But ultimately Chéreau's production is more of an astute commentary on the opera than a performance of it. spacer


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