Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Anna Caterina Antonacci, Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Sara Jakubiak as Marie [Photo by Tristram Kenton courtesy of English National Opera]
14 May 2013

Wozzeck at ENO

“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.

Wozzeck at ENO

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Sara Jakubiak as Marie

Photos by Tristram Kenton courtesy of English National Opera

 

But, even the darkest most abject tragedies have, by definition, the power to uplift, salve and redeem. Our spirits are plunged to the most terrible depths, yet our terrified souls are ultimately cleansed by some ultimate beauty which perhaps cannot be defined but whose capacity to purify is discerned and experienced.

Carrie Cracknell’s striking new production of Berg’s bleak opera is a tragedy without catharsis or succour. Situating the unfolding misery in a shabby army barracks in modern Britain, Cracknell presents us with unsentimental, gritty realism and domestic suffering, enriched by imaginative theatrical details. Wozzeck is a poor private driven into despair and then madness by impoverishment, betrayal and guilt. He kills his wife, and then himself, their lifeless bodies, slumped like rag-dolls across a scuffed kitchen table, a painful image of futility and senselessness. There is no universal atonement.

The wretchedness unfolds relentlessly across the levels of designer Tom Scutt’s highly effective three-level set. The cheerless private living quarters are permanently visible above the public goings-on in the ground floor mess, thereby emphasising that the horror and inanity of war is responsible for the destruction of human dignity. Indeed, Cracknell makes much of the military context; soldiers in combat gear stand astride the stage, smoking, posturing, challenging the audience before curtain rise. Union-draped coffins return home but are awarded little respect, as the women prefer to bestow their shameless attentions on the living rather than direct their compassion to the fallen.

Wozzeck--Leigh_Melrose--Bryan_Register.gifLeigh Melrose as Wozzeck and Bryan Register as Drum Major

Certainly one should not under-estimate the impact of Berg’s own experiences of war - he enlisted in August 1915 - on this opera, and they may have encouraged him to empathise with the oppressed soldier of Büchner's play. But, Berg show Wozzeck as a man who is both a poor squaddie and a visionary, and his tragedy is - like that of Peter Grimes - that he cannot reconcile these two opposing identities. Cracknell’s Wozzeck is a man undone by the revulsion and responsibilities of war, which hound and haunt him - mingled with the hallucinatory torments caused by the Doctor’s psychedelic chemical experimentations. But, the director offers little sense of the visionary dimension, of the Wozzeck who is more than a representative of the oppressed class - ‘die arme Leute’; the Wozzeck who is ‘outside’ conventional mores.

The effects of this are most noticeable in the closing moments when the decision to confine the drama within the domestic interior deprives us of the pathos of the moonlit lake where Wozzeck desperately tries to purify his soul, by committing suicide in the very waters where he has washed the blood from the lethal knife. (It also makes a nonsense of the translated surtitles). Yet, what better expresses Wozzeck's ultimate alienation and estrangement than the gentle sounds of nature - namely the indifferent croaking of the frogs as he drowns in the lake upon whose shore lies Marie’s condemnatory corpse.

In Berg’s final scene, the child of Wozzeck and Marie is seen playing, enjoying what will be his final moments of innocence, unaware of the tragedy which has ensued; but in Cracknell’s production Harry Polden creeps past the bloodied bodies - with shocking dignity and composure - to the courtyard.

As Wozzeck, Leigh Melrose is at once introverted and authoritative. A man trapped in own mind, plagued and piqued by images of innocence ravaged, he is as physically enfeebled as he is mentally besieged. It is clear that his obsessive love for the unworthy Marie is both a tantalising path to deliverance and his ultimate, inevitable route to destruction. At times an inert, frail figure, Melrose focuses all his authority into his voice, conveying a huge range of psychological states and dimensions. Both he and his Marie, the American soprano Sara Jakubiak, are moving without lapsing into sentimentality.
Jakubiak finds huge resources of passion and piercing anger, conveying the savagery of her desires and distress. Yet, conversely, she captures Marie’s unobtrusive yet undoubted emergent remorse, culminating in a sudden realization of her culpability which confirms her inescapable haplessness and lack of hope.

Berg’s monstrous Captain and Doctor can seem outlandish caricatures and Cracknell certainly piles on the grotesque twitches and manias. Tom Randle’s swaggering Captain, his steroid-derived muscles etched with livid tattoos, runs a neat side-line in drugs-trafficking, concealing his mind-numbing powders and capsules in garish children’s toys. James Morris’s egregious, despotic Doctor, meanwhile, finds the likes of Wozzeck and his friend Andres (Adrian Dwyer) - a wheelchair-bound veteran who numbs the pain of reality by retreating into the world of computer games and cyber hostilities - a willing workforce, ready to endure his experiments and chemical confections for small change.

Both Morris and Randle presented unequivocally committed performances of vicious vitality; in common with the entire cast, they delivered Richard Stokes’ translation with unfailingly clarity. During the diverse, loosely connected dialogue of the opening scene, they used body and voice to transfix us in fascination at their foulness; throughout they ambushed all with their ghastly diversions, Morris thundering imposingly forth while Randle unleashed some terrifying falsetto shrieks.

Edward Gardner drew a performance of astonishing lyrical intensity from the orchestra of English National Opera, in a rich, Romantic reading of almost Mahlerian elegy. He used the intimate quality of much of the score to throw the interludes into powerful relief, crafting the latter so that they steadily gained in dramatic significance and emotional potency. Such luscious opulence may have been a little at odds with the stark bleakness of the on-stage action, but Gardner’s acute awareness of the minutiae of the disciplined structure units from which the score is built provided a controlled counterpoint to the escalation of abnormal psychological intensity.

The penetrating tone which, following Marie’s murder, twice surges from a troubling pianissimo tremor to a captivating, apocalyptic boom, was electrifying in its primitive grandeur. At the moment of death some believe that all the important occurrences of one’s life pass rapidly and in distortion through one’s mind; and here, we seemed to experience both the self-consuming fire of Marie’s death, and Wozzeck’s terrifying realization of his own vileness.

Sir Thomas Beecham detested Berg’s opera, calling it “the most horrible opera in the world”. Cracknell offered little to alleviate the horror but much to inspire admiration.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Wozzeck: Leigh Melrose; Marie: Sara Jakubiak; Captain: Tom Randle; Doctor: James Morris; Drum Major: Bryan Register; Andres: Adrian Dwyer; Margret: Clare Presland; First Apprentice: Andrew Greenan; Second Apprentice: James Cleverton; Madman: Peter van Hulle; Marie’s Child: Harry Polden; Carrie Cracknell: director; Edward Gardner: conductor; Tom Scutt: set designs; Oliver Townsend and Naomi Wilkinson: costumes; Jon Clarke: lighting; Ann Yee: choreography; Chorus and Orchestra of the English National Opera. English National Opera, London Coliseum, Saturday 11th May 2013.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):