[Met Performance] CID:187410

Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, March 10, 1961

Debut : Thomas Cooke

In English

Wozzeck (6)
Alban Berg | Alban Berg
Hermann Uhde

Eleanor Steber

Paul Franke

Drum Major
Kurt Baum

Ralph Herbert

Charles Anthony

Margaret Roggero

Ezio Flagello

Calvin Marsh

Alessio De Paolis

Earl Ringland

Charles Kuestner

Thomas Cooke [Debut]

Karl Böhm

Herbert Graf

Caspar Neher

Stage Director
Michael Manuel

Performed with two intermissions.
Translation by Vida Harford and Eric Blackall
Wozzeck received five performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Alan Rich in the April 1961 issue of Musical America

"Wozzeck" has arrived. In the two years since the first Metropolitan production, excerpts have appeared on opera-potpourri LPs, and even Miss Anna Russell has taken the work under her capacious wing ("The first beatnik opera;" "Wozzeck," the poor man's "Siegfried," etc.). With the amount of new music around these days, Berg's style, for all its incredible originality, is already beginning to sound like an old friend. Subscribers still left in droves at every intermission, but I daresay their number will decrease rapidly within very few years.

Little new can be said in praise of this production, which is simply one of the great experiences in any opera house today. One must see to believe the all-embracing insight that has been lavished on settings absolutely perfect for the mood of each successive scene, the superb sense of movement imparted to each human motion by enlightened stage direction, the spectacular but always apposite employment of light, color and pattern to join with the musical conception toward a single expressive end. The simplicity of it all is overwhelming; it is almost as if the mind of the observer had been left room to mingle with the personages of the drama in their own sphere of activity.

There are, of course, problems presented by this strange and haunting mingling of realism and fantasy that is "Wozzeck. To project fully the poignant immediacy of the hapless Wozzeck" and his Marie is, in a real sense, to turn one's back on much of the artifice that is imbedded in traditional operatic language. Hermann Uhde succeeds in this almost fully; although he is almost too beautiful physically to create the illusion, he masters this by vocal resource and by a knowing sense of stance and motion.

Eleanor Steber is not quite so successful; one is too conscious at times of her inner struggle to subdue her own ravishing gifts, and she doesn't quite make it. Her great moment, not surprisingly, is during the bible-reading, scene in Act II which is the most conventionally operatic music in the score. I am also put off by her artificial and overstressed English enunciation. Although she gets more words across than any other member of the cast, she does so at the expense of flow and naturalness.

Of the swirl of maniacs and idiots that engulfs the unfortunate pair, every member represents a marvel of casting and realization. Paul Franke's Captain is exactly right, a mélange of fatuity and pretense impeccably projected. Ralph Herbert, making his first appearance as the Doctor, proved a strong addition to the company visually and vocally. Every small voice that emerged from the morass to hoot its message of doom had been selected with a superior sense of ensemble and drama; there simply wasn't a weak moment. And what a stroke of imagination is the casting of Kurt Baum as the Drum Major!

Karl Böhm returned in triumph to shape, mold and pace the performance with the mind and hand of a master. The orchestra played its heart out for him, in the kind of ensemble we all dream about at the Metropolitan but seldom get to hear. A great and rare thing it is, to find so many diverse elements so completely attuned in the service of a masterwork.

The English translation of Vida Harford and Eric Blackall is, in general, a good one, and the opera gains unquestionably from its use. The case of "Wozzeck" vis-a-vis this whole translation controversy is, I think, a special one. This is, primarily, a drama intoned to melodic lines that distill and magnify the shape of the thoughts of its characters. To fuss for authenticity in the matter of language here is to fail to grasp the special striving by Berg for realism and anti-artifice. The message is at once universal and immediate, and any attempt to preserve needless barriers here would be foolish. Fortunately, the wisdom which the Metropolitan Opera has poured into this memorable production has recognized no such barrier.

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