A flawed vision of Wozzeck
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 12/06/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"When Marie turned to Wozzeck and said "What's the matter? You look dazed", I felt like leaping up and shouting "I know how he feels". I set aside my misgivings about the current European trend of ignoring traditional productions when I purchased this DVD because I felt that the modernist opera Wozzeck would be least damaged by a director's errant vision. That theory was shot to blazes after watching this updated production. The director Calixto Bieito reveals why he made his changes in a quotation from an interview partially printed in the accompanying booklet. Discussing Georg Buchner's play and Alban Berg's score, he says "It is almost impossible to add to what they themselves revealed in their works. Instead, we had to reclaim the complex character of the original...." This explains why, once again, a European director feels unbound to the composer's vision. My question is: if you feel incapable of presenting what the author's reveal in their work, why do it at all? Why not write your own opera if you have something new to say, rather than bend and distort the meaning of the opera at hand?
Here we have yet another vision of an industrial landscape. This was done 30 years ago in Boulez's famous Ring Cycle. It has been done many times since. It is a well-worn metaphor. With all the characters in orange jumpsuits, working in a factory, we have a vision of uniformity. Not the portrait of a class-ridden society in between-the-wars Europe as symbolized by Wozzeck's army setting. There, the pity and pathos felt for "wir armen Leute", we poor folks, as exemplified by the downtrodden Wozzeck, is integral to both the play and opera. We feel nothing like that in this production. Instead, the industrial pipes are a metaphor of the human body, exposed and dissected. It makes for a striking set, of course. But what does it mean? It appears to be an attack on industrialization, greed, rampant unfeeling Capitalism and environmental destruction. That's all well and good, but what happened to Wozzeck? I don't have the same gut response as I do when I see poor Wozzeck pummeled by his "betters" in its original army setting. Incidentally, the libretto is unchanged and retains all of its allusions to the original military setting, making it even more puzzling to me.
The cast and performances are good, although the bald, toxic "child" (there are many of them at the end, varied by size and age) wearing the air tank is merely creepy, not enlightening. The final murder of Marie seems small and unimportant, somehow, now that everything of human scale (such as a home or a barracks) has been replaced by a massive factory. We lose the shock of its violence and its tragic inevitability, which was caused by Wozzeck's brutalization. In this industrial environment, everyone is brutalized, nothing is shocking. It is a crucial loss, in my view. There is also nudity and additional violence. This also numbs the message found in Alban Berg's opera. Given the rampant violence and nudity found in any Hollywood film, I can't help asking "What's the point?" The final full "cast" nude scene resembles that of the musical Hair. That was 40 years ago. I've placed quotation marks around the word cast because they are unusually attractive men and women who appear to be models hired just for the purpose of appearing nude. Apparently, they neither sing nor act in the opera. You can draw your own conclusions as to what purpose they serve.
The Liceu Orchestra plays the score beautifully, it is a difficult score to play. But if that is the criterion for purchasing this DVD, there are many splendid CD recordings available. Karl Bohm, Claudio Abbado and Dimitri Mitropoulos have all made classic recordings. The running time of this DVD (with extras) is 129 minutes. It is shot in 16/9 anamorphic widescreen and looks splendid. Sound is brilliant and clear in PCM stereo and even better in DTS 5.0. There are a few extras.
Although beautifully played and well sung, this production misses the point of Berg's tragic masterpiece. I wish it were more of Wozzeck and less of the director.
Liceu Wozzeck: Bieito Gets It Right!
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 12/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Liceu Wozzeck: Bieito Gets It Right!
It's the day after, and I'm still reeling from watching Bad Boy Bieito's production of Wozzeck from the Liceu. This release, will - to be sure - anger as many as it will entice, but rarely - if ever - have I seen an opera updated to better effect with the resulting music drama as perfect as a stage work can get.
This production - as typical with this director - has divided audiences probably more than any other work he's done. While many of the ideas I've heard for his productions of Seraglio, Butterfly, etc., have repulsed me and seem like cheap effects for shock value, watching this Wozzeck was like watching something new. Somehow - and with a minimum of conceited directorial shoehorning, Berg's masterpiece fits this new scenario as though there were no other way to perform it. The score's otherworldliness matches the visual components given here in a futuristic, almost sci-fi manner that feels perfectly natural. It's astonishing, really.
Bieito's cast is uniformly strong - top-to-bottom. Franz Hawalta's title character not only embodies the awkwardness of Berg's anti-hero, he embraces it, convincing one he may be the only sane and still human person in this tale. Where Alan Held last year destroyed me by his pitiable Wozzeck who felt like an outsider in an unusually cruel world, Hawalta's Wozzeck is an outsider - someone hanging on to the last vestiges of his humanity in a post-apocalyptic world where there is no hope.
The stage design is simply mindboggling (well, not so much "simply"). The endless labyrinth of pipes and pipe heads, is here, "the belly of the beast." There is steam, liquids, gunk and filth pouring, breathing, filling the stage, yet somehow, there is also beauty.
The Wozzecks seem to live in an enormous corrugated metal container, or box car which descends from the flies, it's harsh, inhuman florescent lights washing out nearly all color and hope. When we witness first the home's descending, it features Wozzeck watering a small green garden and the imagery, the symbolic nurturing of his garden in this hopeless place was so beautiful and meaningful so as to nearly stop my heart. It is an image I will never forget.
Nearly everyone in the cast is in identical orange, work jumpsuits, everyone covered in grime, women with hair clipped short, Wozzeck and Marie's child, a sickly, bald, bruised waif, forced to wear an oxygen mask at all times, the tanks strapped to his weak, failing back. It is a heartbreaking vision, and the child is onstage for much of the opera, his symbolism cannot be missed, yet never once feels forced or false. The Doctor, Drum Major, Captain and Fool are the only ones given different costumes, for obvious and well thought out theatrical reasons.
Ms. Denoke does not go for the sympathy vote with her unique take on Marie. This Marie is a feisty, slightly opportunistic factory worker: a little cold, a little less thoughtful and refined in her thinking and thus a little less pitiable. The bible-reading scene then becomes the embodiment of Marie's great catharsis; a dramatic realization which becomes, here, an epiphany of the horror of her plight - everything, becoming somehow, for the first time, real. Wozzeck, having been brutally beaten, and humiliated by the other men, lies before the house at the beginning of the scene, with Marie wondering where he's been for two days. It completely changes this intent of this scene from every other production I know. When she jumps from the house, she's clutching the oversized bible, and begins tearing it violently to shreds, before seeing Wozzeck's bloody, broken body which has been there the entire time.
While there is nudity, Bieito's use of it here is restrained. For most of the opera, the only nudity is that of corpses which the Doctor dissects, and seems far too interested in both carnally and clinically. One of the most arresting and disturbingly beautiful images occurs during the final interlude as nearly the entire company appear - all nude, and slowly - walking in barely discernable steps, toward the stage apron, as what appear to be disinfectant perhaps showers of purification rain down upon them. The effect and its meaning completely overwhelmed me and thinking of it now . . . well, I'm writing this shaking my head in near disbelief. It is not at all a provocative or sensual image, but the beauty of it - the perfect matching to the music's mood seems haunted by genius.
Everything about this Wozzeck is new, alarming and ultimately powerful. Wozzeck's early interactions with Andres have a naturalness about them convinces these once were good friends. It was a joy to see David Kuebler, a singer I've always liked, giving such a strong presence to an almost thankless role.
Reiner Goldberg - a singer I've always been divided on (and who has got to be getting on in years) is marvelous as the Drum Major in his Elvisy-glitz and gold hair.
Vivian Tierney as Margret, Johann Tilli as the Doctor, and the diminutive Hubert Delamboye as the Captain all offer well thought out and vivid portrayals of these roles.
No Wozzeck, of course, cannot work without the score being as well played and sung as possible and the German maestro, Sebastian Weigle, seems to have spent his life with this score. The delicacy of certain sections are as beautiful and illuminating as any performance or recording I've ever heard. He emphasizes as well as the best, the dance rhythms of Berg's amazingly diverse score. As delicate and chamberlike as some of the score is, the moments of bombast are, here, as devastating as they can ever be. Combined with the images of Bieito's dazzling and harrowing production, the effect is as total - and new - as a Wozzeck can be. The playing and singing from the Liceu forces really is about as good as it gets.
The sound engineering of this product is astonishing, at the right volume level, everything is caught as cleanly and as clearly as one would experience in a great opera house (though, necessarily and, of course, without that live spatiality).
There is an interesting 18 minute documentary offering insights into Wozzeck, including Bieito's take on the story, and Maestro Weigle's pocketbook analysis of the score.
This DVD jumps to the top of my favorites pile and I look forward to being destroyed on many repeated viewings.
Haunting portrayal of a 20th century classic
abraxasworld | berwyn, il | 09/29/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I haven't seen a live production of this so i don't have a comparison as to original staging or anything, but, this being my first viewing of a work by Berg, i thought it was haunting and wonderfully done! The music for one is very well composed and very well conducted i thought. The casting was outstanding and handled well within the dramatic elements of the work. Atonal composition is very hard for many listeners to get in to, but if you can then please give this a shot. The setting the director chose for this opera works in its advantage to create an amplified torment that exists throughout and, most certainly, heightens the viewers experience of its abstract form."