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Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Wozzeck – Opera in three acts (sung in German)
Matthias Goerne (Wozzeck)
Asmik Grigorian (Marie)
John Daszak, (Tambourmajor)
Mauro Peter (Andres)
Gerhard Siegel (Hauptmann)
Jens Larsen (Doktor)
Frances Pappas (Margret)
Tobias Schabel (Erster Handwerksbursche)
Huw Montague Rendall (Zweiter Handwerksbursche)
Heinz Göhrig (Narr)
Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor
Salzburger Festspiele und Theater Kinderchor
Wiener Philharmoniker,
Vladimir Jurowski
William Kentridge (stage director)
Tiziano Mancini (video director)
rec. Haus für Mozart, Salzburg Festival, Austria, August 2017
2 discs 1 DVD NTSC & 1 Blu-Ray (All Regions)
Format 16/9
Subtitles in German, English and French
HARMONIA MUNDI HMD9809053.54 DVD/Blu-ray [101 mins]

If the fated chord in Richard Strauss’ Salome marks the birth of modern music, then surely, Wozzeck marks that of modern opera, it was ground breaking and there had certainly been nothing quite like it beforehand. I came to know the work through Karl Böhm’s classic 1965 DG recording on LP back in the late 1970’s and was most taken by Berg’s treatment of the voice, something that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Wozzeck and Evelyn Lear as the love of his life, Marie, certainly rose to as well. Since then I have come across a couple of fine recordings of this seminal work on CD as well as a very disappointing DVD production from the Gran Teatre del Liceu on Opus Arte (OA 0985 D). In the Spanish version liberties are certainly taken with the action being moved to a factory complex with everyone clad in boiler suits, with a bit too much gratuitous nudity, as well as the final indignity to the character of Wozzeck, the German playwright Georg Büchner and to Alban Berg, when after taking his revenge, Wozzeck drowns himself not in the pond, but by inserting himself in a pipe, no such indignity here. There are eleven years between the release dates of these to DVD productions, and although I got the Liceu when it came out in 2007, I have now watched this new production one more than that version, the Blu-Ray twice and the DVD once.

Whilst there is some good singing in the Liceu version, it can not compare with this version from the Salzburg Festival, with Matthias Goerne’s Wozzeck being quite masterly, as he is able to portray not only the power and angst of the role, but also the fragility which is especially brought out in the scene with the Doctor; here Jens Larsen is also wonderful. As the object of Wozzeck’s love and therefore the ultimate victim of his jealousy and rage, Asmik Grigorian as Maria is excellent and the equal of Angela Denoke in the Liceu version, she is particularly good at displaying the fear of what is to happen to her. Indeed, this is a very strong cast with Gerhard Siegel as the Captain setting the scene well in his opening dialogue with Wozzeck on the qualities of a decent man as to what is to follow. John Daszak is truly menacing in his portrayal of the Drum Major, he has the swagger off to a tee, whilst his almost mocking tone and violence towards Wozzeck is excellent. The efforts of the chorus cannot be underestimated, they support the action well and are marvellous in their acting as well as their singing. The Wiener Philharmoniker under Vladimir Jurowski are magnificent, both in their playing in small groups and in full orchestra mode. Their's might be seen as a mainly supportive role but when called upon, as in the D minor Interlude that leads into the finale, they are superb.

Overall this is a superior recording (sound wise) than that of the Liceu, and when you take into account the presentation it is a clear winner. This production has an interesting use of video projection and the use of puppets which adds to the dark and menacing atmosphere, but it works, and it certainly does not detract from the music and drama of the opera. Having watched both the DVD and the Blu-Ray versions, both of which are included in this presentation (the Blu-Ray offers a slightly crisper viewing experience) the sound is also superior as one would expect. Having said this, the DVD production is also very good. It might seem a bit extravagant to have both versions in the same package, but you are not charged a premium price, rather this is a bargain priced production with a premium performance, I will certainly be watching this production a lot more than that from the Liceu; a real winner.

Stuart Sillitoe

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