The Metropolitan Opera – William Kentridge’s production of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck – Peter Mattei, Elza van den Heever, Gerhard Siegel, Christopher Ventris, Christian Van Horn, Andrew Staples, Tamara Mumford; conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Wozzeck – Opera in three Acts to a libretto by the composer after the play Woyzeck by Georg Büchner [sung in German with English Met Titles by Christopher Bergen]

Wozzeck – Peter Mattei
Marie – Elza van den Heever
Captain – Gerhard Siegel
Drum Major – Christopher Ventris
Doctor – Christian Van Horn
Andres – Andrew Staples
Margret – Tamara Mumford
Apprentices – David Crawford & Miles Mykkanen
Fool – Brenton Ryan
Soldier – Daniel Clark Smith
Townsman – Gregory Warren
Marie’s Child – Eliot Flowers
Puppeteers – Andrea Fabi & Gwyneth E. Larsen
Actors – Frank Colardo & Tina Mitchell

Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Children’s Chorus

Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera [Jonathan C. Kelly (stage piano solo)]
Yannick Nézet-Séguin

William Kentridge – Production
Luc De Wit – Co-Director
Catherine Meyburgh – Production Designer
Sabine Theunissen – Set Designer
Greta Goiris –Costume Designer
Urs Schönebaum – Lighting Designer

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 27 December, 2019
Venue: Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York City

The Metropolitan Opera – William Kentridge’s production of Alban Berg’s WozzeckPhotograph: Ken Howard / Met OperaAlban Berg’s Expressionist masterpiece, Wozzeck, takes over the Metropolitan Opera stage in this co-production of The Met, the Salzburg Festival, Opera Australia and the Canadian Opera Company. William Kentridge’s unconventional, multi-layered staging, which had its premiere at the 2017 Salzburg Festival, places the action in the militarized zone of Flanders in the lead-up to the First World War and takes Berg’s own distressing experience in the Austro-Hungarian army into account. It is relentlessly grim.

A huge, multipurpose set serves for every location in the libretto: the army barracks where the Captain taunts Wozzeck about his illegitimate child; the countryside where the abused soldier is haunted by visions; the squalid room he shares with his lover, Marie; the Doctor’s study where he is paid to be a human guinea-pig; the moon-lit woods where he and Marie come to their end. The stage is overloaded with blasted objects strewn over and about the entire playing area. Dark, gruesome pictures of destruction – drawings and photos of maimed bodies, scorched forests, bombed villages, gas masks, crutches, exploding grenades – flash on and off the back wall, while the grainy and spotted projected images of a silent film offer a simultaneous, often ambiguous commentary on the action.

The Metropolitan Opera – William Kentridge’s production of Alban Berg’s WozzeckGerhard Siegel as the Captain, Peter Mattei as Wozzeck, and Christian Van Horn as the DoctorPhotograph: Ken Howard / Met Opera

With less talented singers, this barrage of images could easily overshadow the performers. But the members of the Met’s all-star cast each make a distinct and lasting impression, both vocally and dramatically. Peter Mattei, in his role debut as Franz Wozzeck, the mild and simple-minded soldier, bullied and battered by life, who is driven to murder his common-law wife after she has been seduced by his Drum Major, is deeply affecting. His meticulously accurate and lyrical baritone makes the browbeaten squaddie appear unusually – but also appealingly – mild and unassuming.

Also making a role debut, Elza van den Heever as the neglected and desperate Marie is frequently required to interact with a less-than-totally-receptive scene partner – a wooden puppet (wearing a gas mask) that represents her child. Even so, she proves herself to be a superb singer-actor, using her plush, dramatic soprano to fine effect to reveal the character’s many contradictions and complexities in perfectly-tuned Bergian vocal style.

The Metropolitan Opera – William Kentridge’s production of Alban Berg’s WozzeckChristopher Ventris as the Drum Major and Elza van den Heever as MariePhotograph: Ken Howard / Met Opera

Among the other members of the flawless and confident cast, Gerhard Siegel, with his piercing tenor and formidable stage presence, gives a stand-out performance as the moralizing and pushy Captain. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn is perfectly comic and creepy as the Doctor, and tenor Christopher Ventris is appropriately cartoonish as the swaggering Drum Major. Andrew Staples, making his company debut as Wozzeck’s fellow soldier and only friend, displays a strong and vibrant tenor.

All these fine singers are inspired and more than ably supported by the luminous and lucid playing of the orchestra. Conducted with painstaking precision by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Met players bring out all the fine details of Berg’s dark, beautiful and heavily atmospheric music, without ever losing the sense of the masterful score as a whole. Together with Kentridge’s intensely felt vision of Berg’s masterful stage work, the orchestral and vocal forces deliver a completely enthralling and moving operatic experience.

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