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Reviews

26 Nov 2019

Wozzeck in Munich

It would be an extraordinary, even an unimaginable Wozzeck that failed to move, to chill one to the bone. This was certainly no such Wozzeck; Marie’s reading from the Bible, Wozzeck’s demise, the final scene with their son and the other children: all brought that particular Wozzeck combination of tears and horror.

Berg, Wozzeck - Bavarian State Opera, Munich

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Gun-Brit Barkmin (Marie), John Daszak (Drum Major)

Images © W. Hösl

 

At its heart, in every sense, lay Christian Gerhaher’s Wozzeck, Gun-Brit Barkmin’s Marie, and their child, touchingly sung by Alban Mondon.

Wozzeck_Gerhaher_c__W._Hoesl (1).jpgChristian Gerhaher (Wozzeck)

I have heard some fine Wozzecks over the years; Gerhaher must surely rank alongside the finest. He has been selective in his opera roles; it would, however, be an over-simplification verging on distortion to say that he is more at home in the concert hall. Wozzeck is, of course, a very different role from his fabled Tannhäuser Wolfram and is surely the sterner dramatic test, perhaps especially for someone with so heartbreakingly beautiful a voice. Or so it might seem on first glance, but Gerhaher is an artist at least as celebrated for intelligence and humanity. His way with words, music, and gesture too simply had one believe that this was the character he was playing. Verbal nuance without pedantry, attention to musical line without a hint of self-regard, harrowing facial expression that demanded our sympathy: yes, this was a compleat Wozzeck. Barkmin’s Marie, equally well sung (and spoken), equally sympathetic, made for a fine complement indeed. Through her artistry one felt her hopes as well as her devastation, her pride as well as her capacity for love. Wolfgang Ablinger-Speerhacke’s Captain, John Daszak’s Drum Major and Jens Larsen’s Doctor skilfully trod the line between character and caricature, no mean feat in a production that often called upon them to accentuate the grotesque. Kevin Conners as Andres and Heike Grötzinger as Margret impressed too, carving out their own dramatic potentialities, even as we knew them no more likely to succeed than the opera’s central couple. Cast from depth, this was a fine Wozzeck for singing-actors.

Hartmut Haenchen’s conducting proved efficient most of the time, albeit with a few too many discrepancies between sections of the orchestra as well as between orchestra and pit. To be fair, there were also passages—often the interludes—in which all came together to offer something considerably more than that. Haenchen’s reading was not for the most part, however, one to offer any particular revelation. He clearly knew ‘how it went’, yet the post-Wagnerian orchestra as dramatic cauldron had its juices emerge only fitfully.

Wozzeck_Barkmin_c__W._Hoesl (1) (1).jpgGun-Brit Barkmin (Marie) and Ensemble

Andreas Kriegenburg’s production seemed conceptually a little unsure of what it was trying to achieve. Straddling the divide between Expressionist grotesquerie—some arresting images there—and social realism—with a curious twist of Brechtian image, not dramaturgy—is a perfectly reasonable strategy. Communication of how the two might intertwined proved more elusive. Updated to what seemed to be more or less the time of composition, the production left no doubt of the gross injustice and poverty pervading the world in which these events took place. I could have done without all the splashing round in the lake below. Kriegenburg often scored, however, in particular dramatic touches: above all, the acts of Wozzeck’s son, keen to learn from his ill-fated father: watching, listening. and in some cases, acting, as when this evidently wounded child broke his mother’s heart by painting the accusation ‘Huren’ (‘whore’) on her wall. All was lost, then: a moment of devastation. Already we knew what fate, or rather society, had in store not only for Wozzeck and Marie, but for their child too. ‘Wir arme leut’ ...

Mark Berry

Alban Berg: Wozzeck

Wozzeck - Christian Gerhaher, Drum Major - John Daszak, Andres - Kevin Conners, Captain - Wolfgang Ablinger-Speerhacke, Doctor - Jens Larsen, First Apprentice - Peter Lobert, Second Apprentice - Boris Prýgl, Fool - Ulrich Reß, Marie - Gun-Brit Barkmin, Margret - Heike Grötzinger, Marie’s Child - Alban Mondon, Lad - Jochen Schäfer, Soldier - Markus Zeitler; Director - Andreas Kriegenburg, Conductor - Hartmut Haenchen, Set Designs - Harald B Thor, Costumes - Harald B Thor, Costumes - Andrea Schraad, Lighting - Stefan Bolliger, Choreography - Zenta Haerter, Dramaturgy - Miron Hakenbeck, Bavarian State Opera Chorus (chorus director: Stellario Fagone), Bavarian State Orchestra.

Nationaltheater, Munich; Saturday 23rd November 2019.

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