Kentridge’s Triumphant ‘Wozzeck’ Will Come to the Met Opera

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Kentridge’s Triumphant ‘Wozzeck’ Will Come to the Met Opera

Post by lennygoran » Wed Aug 09, 2017 8:08 pm

I plan on being there! Regards, Len

Review: William Kentridge’s Triumphant ‘Wozzeck’ Will Come to the Met Opera


SALZBURG, Austria — For those who were dizzied by the artist William Kentridge’s frenetic productions of “The Nose” and “Lulu” at the Metropolitan Opera, he starts his extraordinary new “Wozzeck” with a self-deprecating joke. As the opera opens, the title character, a cruelly exploited soldier who murders his lover in a fit of jealousy, is screening a very Kentridge kind of animated film: jittery black-and-white drawings, surreal juxtapositions and swiftly flowing images.

“Slowly, Wozzeck, slowly!” the bullying Captain shouts at him, watching the footage. “One thing at a time. You make me quite giddy.”

He’s speaking for many in the entranced, sometimes mystified audiences for Mr. Kentridge’s stagings, which place boldly layered films, still images, fractured designs and onstage hordes on top of already complex works.

But while hardly serene or simple, “Wozzeck,” written by Alban Berg between 1914 and 1922, is a more focused piece than the composer’s “Lulu” or Shostakovich’s “The Nose.” And Mr. Kentridge has given it his most elegant and powerful operatic treatment yet, in a production that opened on Tuesday at the Salzburg Festival and will travel to the Met in the 2019-20 season. (It is also shared with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto and Opera Australia.)

Berg’s opera was based on Georg Büchner’s 19th-century play “Woyzeck,” but was crucially shaped by its composer’s experiences on the front during World War I. So Mr. Kentridge sets the work on and near a battlefield of that conflict.

The stage is dominated by a precarious mountain of platforms, staircase fragments and discarded furniture that, with the help of stage-filling, smoky charcoal animations, shifts during Berg’s brooding interludes from inside to outside, from tavern to barracks to bombed-out heath. The searing final D minor interlude is echoed onstage in an orgy of charcoal explosions. (The sets are by Sabine Theunissen; costumes, Greta Goiris; video, Catherine Meyburgh; and lighting, Urs Schönebaum. Mr. Kentridge’s co-director is Luc De Wit.)

This is a world of crashed airplanes, flickering maps of troop movements and the tension and violence born of endless waiting. Other directors have made of “Wozzeck” a more general societal indictment; Mr. Kentridge indicts war, war, war. A recurring image shows the young son of Wozzeck and Marie, his common-law wife, aging into a soldier, his face thickened by injuries, like something out of the grotesque battlefield prints of Otto Dix or George Grosz.

That son is depicted onstage by a gangly puppet in a gas mask, perhaps a nod to one of Mr. Kentridge’s first collaborative ventures: a 1992 adaptation of the Büchner play called “Woyzeck on the Highveld,” with the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa. (Rich evidence of the full sweep of his artistic career — the theater central from the beginning — is on view until November in a retrospective at Salzburg’s Museum der Moderne.)

Beyond that melancholy puppet, Mr. Kentridge doesn’t stint the piece’s forlorn, savage humor, with the office of the Doctor (Jens Larsen) jammed into an armoire and the helmet of the Captain (the piercing Gerhard Siegel) detonating in an enormous feather plume. But for all its antic fancifulness, this is also the truest, least over-the-top “Wozzeck” I’ve seen.

Played with mellow disbelief and sung with parched, wounded tone by the baritone Matthias Goerne, the title character doesn’t start off, as he does in many stagings (and often by Mr. Goerne), as a wild-eyed lunatic. He’s rather a kind of stymied artist on whom, and in whom, pressure slowly builds. Marie, here the young, penetrating soprano Asmik Grigorian, is a more girlish and irresponsible, less sympathetically maternal presence than usual. Theirs is not a collision of archetypes, but of people.

This was the third opera I heard here over the past few days featuring the Vienna Philharmonic, the Salzburg Festival’s house band, in the pit. Led with relentless restraint by Vladimir Jurowski, the orchestra was as virtuosic as it was under Mariss Jansons for Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” and Riccardo Muti for Verdi’s “Aida.”

There is no ensemble quite as colorfully brutal yet agile in the dyspeptic accompaniment of the opening scene, issuing angular interjections and then dissolving into trembling electricity as Wozzeck bemoans how difficult it is for the poor to be virtuous. The frosty vaporization of the strings as Wozzeck is about to murder Marie had terrifying precision and poise.

But unlike in “Lady Macbeth” and “Aida” — and unlike in the “Wozzeck” I heard this ensemble play as the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera a few years ago — here virtuosity was the means, not the end. Sonic effects didn’t seem detached from what was happening onstage, a vision of the pit as its own private world of hermetic beauties; instead, the orchestra acted as an enhancer and interlocutor. The violin solo as Marie read to her child from the Bible wasn’t self-regarding, as some of the Philharmonic’s opera playing has been this week, but intensifying.

Despite this orchestra’s myriad seductions, Mr. Jurowski resisted the urge to overplay; the emphasis was on guiding a coherent, accumulating drama. Climaxes — like the unison B note that crescendos to full-ensemble fury, and that final D minor outpouring — earned their impact honestly.

The partying tavern crowd not long before the opera’s end is a danse macabre, one of the sprawling parades of humanity that Mr. Kentridge has long taken as a theme. But where is the procession headed? The production aptly captures the Europe of the early 1920s, the world in which “Wozzeck” was born: a dazed shambles, on the verge of still more suffering.

The audience seemed stunned at the end, yet grateful. For my part — and this doesn’t often happen, even after the rawest operas — I needed a walk in the mild evening, some deep breaths and a beer. ... ction&_r=0

John F
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Re: Kentridge’s Triumphant ‘Wozzeck’ Will Come to the Met Opera

Post by John F » Thu Aug 10, 2017 2:56 pm

The current production doesn't add up to much. For the 15 scenes it uses a unit set which lacks many of the features Berg composed into the music. Maybe Kentridge will do better.
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Re: Kentridge’s Triumphant ‘Wozzeck’ Will Come to the Met Opera

Post by lennygoran » Thu Aug 10, 2017 5:20 pm

John F wrote:
Thu Aug 10, 2017 2:56 pm
Maybe Kentridge will do better.
John I hope so-so far he's 2 for 2 in my book-The Nose and Lulu. Regards, Len

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