Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons at Carnegie Hall – Berg’s Wozzeck

Wozzeck – Opera in three Acts to a libretto by the composer after the play Woyzeck by Georg Büchner [concert performance sung in German with English surtitles]

Captain – Toby Spence
Wozzeck – Bo Skovhus
Andres – Mauro Peter
Marie – Christine Goerke
Margret – Renée Tatum
Doctor – Franz Hawlata
Drum Major – Christopher Ventris

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons

5 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 15 March, 2022
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

A century has passed since Alban Berg finished composing Wozzeck; yet it can still seem remarkably modern, as it did in this concert performance.

Shorn of the usual stage trappings, Berg’s dark, expressionistic music, brimming with psychological insight, stands out as the principal protagonist in the drama, a devasting tale of an impoverished soldier’s degradation and death. Andris Nelsons expertly controlled the densely chromatic score and the BSO’s enormous forces responded with confidence, delivering a finely detailed, viscerally forceful account. The interludes stringing together the fifteen sharply-edged scenes were highly atmospheric, especially the blazing crescendo that separates the final two. Equally evocative were the more intimate moments, such as the chorus of snoring soldiers in Act Two and the rising chords depicting Wozzeck’s drowning in Act Three.

Heading an excellent cast, Bo Skovhus perfectly embodied Franz Wozzeck, one of his signature roles, using his fine-tuned baritone and ample dramatic skills to convey the put-upon character’s mental and physical distress. As Marie, Wozzeck’s common-law wife and the mother of his son, Christine Goerke was in superb voice, offering a vivid portrayal of a woman victimized by her own complicated and conflicting passions. She was the only vocalist to use a score, but this did not interfere with her ability to project a wide range of emotions. 

Among the other roles, Franz Hawlata’s characterization of the Doctor as an arrogant but affable megalomaniac was a stand-out. He paired well with Toby Spence who maintained a hyperactive presence as the blathering and moralizing Captain but whose light lyric tenor had difficulty projecting over the thick orchestral textures in Act One. Matters greatly improved in the extended scene in Act Two where the crackpot Doctor startles him with a recitation of the afflictions he may have.

As Wozzeck’s fellow-soldier and only friend, Mauro Peter’s smooth-toned tenor enhanced his character’s good intentions.  Christopher Ventris was an appropriately cocky and contemptuous Drum Major, and as Margret, Renée Tatum made the most of her spiteful remarks to her neighbor Marie in Act One, and her brief reappearance in Act Three – when she notices Marie’s blood on Wozzeck’s arm – was an emotionally charged moment.

This was a moving performance of Berg’s masterful work, replete with humanity, deep shadings of character, and highly dramatic music-making.

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