Why the Met's top-flight performance of Wozzeck was not 100% there for me this evening. I am initially inclined to think it was environmental: I did have a little tummy ache, and was having a sort of allergic reaction to the bucket and a half or perfume the sleeping Frau in the next balcony box had evidently bathed in. And a loud cell phone went off in Act II, from somewhere amidst a generally squirmy audience. So, I was a tad distracted. Also, I didn't really do my homework: This is not a score I know as well as I should. I read a bit about the structure, and some bits from a translation of a lecture Berg gave in the late 20's--but did very little active listening. Really, though, I have certainly been able to fully engage with productions under conditions more adverse than this. So, what was the issue? Let's break down the elements:
This musically intelligent, focused cast was in top form: Alan Held turns in a rich, vocally commanding, and dramatically potent Wozzeck. More than most, this baritone role requires not only a powerhouse voice, but a real actor. Held deftly manages both, and does so with an overwhelmingly energetic consistency. He has gained a fan.
After Sieglinde's post about the production, my expectations were particularly high for Swedish soprano Katarina Dalayman's Marie. She does not disappoint (though Held was really my primary source of thrills on this particular evening). She delivers the consistent power (alternating with incredible delicacy) required by the role, without ever veering into the overly strident--a quality I am finding increasingly common and irksome in many sopranos.
Tenors Clifton Forbis and Graham Clark sing the Drum Major and Captain, respectively. Both turn in assured performances of these vocally taxing roles. I mention them together, though, because they both suffered a bit from an occasional burial by the orchestra (who were really at their finest this evening...more in a minute). Nothing massive, just a slight balance issue that popped up now and again, unfortunately at moments that would have otherwise showed off the goods that these guys clearly have.
Lastly, Viennese Bass Walter Fink's imposing voice and physical stature make for an effective and appropriately upsetting Doctor. The interplay between Fink and Clark in the Act II Scene II Street scene (Fantasia on Fugue on Three Subjects) is particularly strong.
For several weeks, I have been looking forward to the Met Orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall this weekend. Yes, yes I know, I should not be SO openly anticipating such a Renee-centric event. But really, a couple of hours with this orchestra under Maestro Levine's baton is time well spent. Point being, tonight's Wozzeck served to seriously amplify said anticipation. I will credit Alex for saying "the orchestra was the real star this evening." I think it may be true. I found myself excitedly waiting for scenes to end in order to have a few minutes to just watch Levine and listen to the orchestra. I also think much of the real brilliance and emotion of this score is found in the orchestral interludes. I am perfectly content to be a willing passenger on the met-orchestra-is-magic-under-Levine's-Baton bandwagon.
So what was missing? Great piece, great cast, great conductor, orchestra in top form...everyone present was at the top of their game.
What about someone who was (most likely) not present? I know it is a bit fruitless to discuss in too much depth the specific design or directorial aspects of a non-premiere production. Truthfully, though, I think Mark Lamos' production may have been a large part of what kept me from fully engaging with the piece, despite the otherwise outstanding showing. I am not a big fan of his. I think his work functions well at City Opera. His Madama Butterfly there is great for the space and for the company. And his fascist Italy-set Tosca works dramatically, at least (tho it is pretty early 90's-tastic). But the scope of the stage is lost on his visual choices. Aestheticallly, this production is sort of a blown up version of his Tosca. That production is a fairly barren, monolithic slate of grays and blacks, with a *surprise* splash of red near the end. We get the same color scheme/progression here--along with an assortment of vague, imposing geometric shapes and extensive use of shadows and near darkness. It's all fairly representational and otherworldly. I just don't think it amounts to a whole lot and is somehow disorienting in a piece contingent upon the success of the communication of the dense drama. Instead, it just presents a sort of generic "modern" theatrical palette and hopes the opera will fit into it somehow. And I just don't think it does, in this case.
I really think this is an outstanding incarnation of this production, and certainly not to be missed. So, I am sad to feel a bit unmoved by it, despite the basic elements being very much in place. I am considering a second viewing on Friday, just to make sure I don't miss an opportunity to feel excited and satisfied by what is truly a pretty remarkable achievement.
PS: Deine Mutter ist tot.