Webmaster: Len Mullenger
Seen and Heard Opera Review
Wozzeck (Review II): Graham Clark, (Captain),
Johan Reuter (Wozzeck), Susan Bullock (Marie), Kurt
Rydl (Doctor), Jorma Silvasti (Drum Major), Daniel
Harding (conductor), Orchestra of the Royal Opera
House, Chorus of the Royal Opera, The Royal Opera,
of a composer is to solve the problems of an ideal
stage director" wrote Alban Berg in 1927. "My
intention was to give to the theatre what belongs
to the theatre. ….. "No one in the audience,
no matter how aware he may be of the musical form…..
gives any heed to anything but the vast social implications
of the work which transcend by far the personal destiny
of Wozzeck. This, I believe, is my accomplishment."
Few revivals have
the energy of the first production, particularly when,
as in this case, the original cast were intimately
involved in developing the concept. This emotional
commitment gave their work an intense, personal quality
which is almost impossible to replicate. Matthias
Goerne, a veteran of four major productions of Wozzeck,
and a man passionately intrigued by the opera, created
the idea of Wozzeck floating lifeless in the glass
cube near the end. It was, as Warner said at the time,
a flash of inspiration that no director would dream
of suggesting. The image expresses Berg’s central
beliefs so vividly that any new solution to the staging
will be haunted by the idea of Wozzeck silently confronting
the audience, forcing them to address their complacency.
Johan Reuter’s experience has been centred mainly in Denmark. Although he has sung one Wozzeck with one of the smaller German companies, it is quite a leap from that to headlining at Covent Garden. His is a firm, resonant bass baritone, but somewhat lacking in colour. Had his portrayal been less one dimensional, it might have worked, but unfortunately he did not fully “inhabit” the complex character. Where Goerne crackled with animal magnetism, even when passive and silent, Reuter seems to slip in and out of form. Noble, heroic roles might be his forte, but Wozzeck’s nobility is of an altogether more quirky, equivocal type. The range in the part is demanding : at one moment Wozzeck is wonderstruck by the sun, at another he comes up with unexpected home truths. He is numb with degradation and despair, yet his extreme, free floating anxiety leads to bursts of hysteria, and murder. The Doctor finds him unsettling and so does Marie. Reuter seems too earthbound and stolid to frighten anyone. Part of the reason perhaps is that he tends to rush over small, crucial details, such as when the child reaches out from under the bed to comfort him. What this role really needs is psychological insight and the ability to act “outside” oneself, and these are skills that either come intuitively or have to be learned from long familiarity with the score.
Graham Clark recreates his role in the original production as the Captain. Strangely, he comes over far less menacingly than before, the demonic violence that electrified his performance last time is much blunted here. Francis Egerton, as the Half-Wit, is another Covent garden veteran, and recreates his role with panache. This may not be a big role but it is critical to this highly integrated work where every note, every action has meaning. Hence praise should also go to Remi Manzi, who plays the non speaking role of Marie’s child. He is on stage throughout, silently observing, trying to interact, responding. Using off stage voices to portray the taunts of other children is another brilliant feature of this production : the child will carry the taunts in his mind, like Wozzeck did, whether or not they exist in objective reality. Jorma Silvasti was an excellent Drum Major bristling with the macho confidence that a more questioning person might lack. The role can be one dimensional, but Silvasti makes the most of tiny details, like patting the child fondly on the head.
What saved this revival
was undoubtedly Harding’s conducting. In this
production, the numerous scene changes in the script
are dispensed with, to keep the pace of action flowing
and modern technology means that curtains aren’t
needed while sets are changed. While Pappano emphasized
the folk tunes and lyrical episodes, Harding’s
approach to the music is uncompromising. Like Wozzeck
floating in death, confronting the audience, Harding
does not let us off comfortably. The folk tunes were
played with deliberate distortion, like lullabies
overheard in a nightmare. Harding may have been a
protégé of Claudio Abbado, whose Wozzeck
is still one of the best recordings, but he is clearly
his own man when it comes to creating a vision of
what the piece means. Over the years, Harding has
conducted Wozzeck many times and has developed a feel
for the score which illuminates its complex, almost
mathematical intricacy of design. His clear sighted
approach brings clarity to the meticulously scored
musical forms, which Berg called “Inventions”.
In a way, I was glad that the singing and acting was
disappointing, because it made it easier to focus
on the music itself, which was Berg’s “key”
to the action and ideas. Harding really understands,
for example, the “role” the Epilogue plays.
In Berg’s own words, it is “a confession
of the author who now steps outside the dramatic action
on the stage. Indeed it is, as it were, an appeal
to humanity through its representative, the audience.
From a musical standpoint this final orchestral interlude
represents a thematic development of all the important
musical ideas related to Wozzeck".