We begin the new year with Alban Berg’s brutal 20th century tragedy, Wozzeck. The libretto, by Berg himself, is based on Georg Büchner’s 19th century drama, Woyzeck, which examines the tortured life of an impoverished peasant soldier amid never-ending wars of conquest pursued by unconcerned European royalty. The play was left incomplete by Büchner’s premature death at 24 in 1837 and taken up again by Berg between 1914 and 1922 after his own service in the War. The Met’s production is set in an apocalyptic pre–World War I environment re-imagined by the incredible artist William Kentridge with larger-than-life video and graphic images that both illuminate and intensify the opera’s urgent social messages.
Kentridge’s arresting sets, along with an absolutely stellar cast led by gripping baritone Peter Mattei, as Wozzeck, and dramatic soprano Elza Van den Heever as his common law wife, Marie, are what make this production particularly compelling despite its deeply disturbing subject matter.
Prominent social themes – militarism, callousness, madness, exploitation, and outright sadism – are brutally and uncompromisingly presented in this first ever opera written in the 20th-century avant-garde expressionist style. It is one of the most famous examples in the current repertoire of both atonality (music that avoids establishing a key) and sprechgesang (dramatic vocalization that is between speaking and singing in its cadence and emphases – in a far lighter vein of sprechgesang, think of Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins).
In his music, Berg followed in the footsteps of his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg, by using free atonality to express deeply distressing emotions and even the very thought processes of his characters on stage. Wozzeck’s own personal expression of madness and alienation is effectively amplified by the atonal music. To experience a serious, modern opera at its best – one that explores the darkest depths of the human psyche – don’t miss this extraordinary production of Wozzeck.
Wozzeck will play with a curtain time of 12:55 PM eastern time, 9:55 AM Reno time at the Summit Sierra and Riverside 12 Theaters. The run time is 1 hour 42 minutes.