[Met Performance] CID:331603

Metropolitan Opera House, Tue, April 20, 1999

Wozzeck (51)
Alban Berg | Alban Berg
Franz Grundheber

Hildegard Behrens

Kenneth Riegel

Drum Major
Mark Baker

Franz Hawlata

David Kuebler

Wendy White

James Courtney

Ronald Naldi

Anthony Laciura

Irwin Reese

Meredith Derr

Jonathan Press

James Levine

Performed without intermission.

Review 1:

Review of Robert Croan in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette of April 28, 1999

Met's 'Wozzeck" Thrills with Power

NEW YORK - Alban Berg's "Wozzeck" is one of the great monuments of opera, a landmark of history first performed in Berlin in 1925. Its uniqueness lies in the composer's ability to make the 12-tone and serial techniques developed by Arnold Schoenberg user-friendly by blending them with the lushest elements of post-romanticism.

The opera is based on "Wozzeck" - a stark, terrifying 19th-century German play by Georg Buchner. As an opera. with Berg's music applied to the actual words of the play (just slightly trimmed down) it is even more gripping and effective - an operatic counterpart, perhaps to Edvard Munch's expressionist painting "The Scream."

Powerful musical theater it is, but Berg's "Wozzeck" is not likely to become a mass-media favorite. Its subject matter is too unpleasant. The music, harsh at first, becomes strangely haunting and memorable on repeated hearings. You may even leave the theater humming some fragments and tunes - Marie's Lullaby, for example. or the recurring motif on "Wir arme Leut" (We poor people).

The title character is a downtrodden soldier, tortured in one way or another by a sadistic Captain, a mad physician and an unfaithful common-law wife, with whom he has a 6-year-old son. When Wozzeck is beaten by his rival and ridiculed by his barracks mates, he stabs the woman and drowns himself, leaving his son uncomprehending as the other children go off to gawk over the body of his mother.

Playing it safe this year, the Metropolitan Opera has revived its superb 1997 production by Mark Lamos but only for three performances in the final eight days of the season. The last of these was, in fact, Saturday afternoon but not part of the Texaco broadcast series (which ended the week before).

Notwithstanding all this. the performance I attended on Tuesday -the second of the three - was close to sold out, with only a few scattered single seats in evidence. And those in attendance included types more frequently seen at jazz and rock events. in addition to the usual opera crowd. At both ends of the spectrum, the audience seemed rapt throughout the opera's three acts - performed without intermission and lasting a scant 100 minutes from first note to last.

Berg's score for "Wozzeck" is a model of economy, each of the 15 scenes cast in a strict traditional musical form (variations, fugue, sonata), and Lamos' staging is spare but meaningful - striking against Robert Israel's black-and-white sets and costumes.

Musically, under James Levine's unfailing baton, this was about as accurate a "Wozzeck" as is possible in live performance. The Metropolitan Opera orchestra played magnificently, and baritone Franz Grundheber - fresh from a run of "Rigolettos" just two weeks earlier -actually sang rather than barked Wozzeck's lines and did so at once musically and meaningfully.

Marie, the title character's wife-mistress, was enacted by Hildegard Behrens. Never having a conventionally beautiful voice and even less so now, at 62, the soprano was heartrending and believable - notably in the scene where she reads to her child about Mary Magdalene and concludes, "God have mercy on me as you did on her!"

Veteran tenor Kenneth Riegel and prime-form basso Franz Hawlata were an appropriately evil pair as the Captain and Doctor, who - when they hear Wozzeck drowning - walk nonchalantly by. From top to bottom, there was not a weak link.

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