Alban Berg’s Wozzeck (1925) is such a theatrical work in such a forbidding atonal idiom that performing it in live performance may appear a foolhardy transfer—stripped down to simply the music in a proper live performance setting would the sad humanity and brutalizing tragedy fail to speak to the viewers?
Berg paints every scene in novel and dramatic musical touches—together with particular themes and musical onomatopoeia that the drama emerges eloquently even with out units and costumes with the singers in night garments behind music stands.
I’ve seen Wozzeck in live performance thrice beforehand [Cleveland Orchestra (1995) with Von Dohnányi; Vienna Philharmonic 2014 with Franz Welser-Möst; and the London Philharmonia (2015) under Esa-Pekka Salonen] and every time Berg’s searing rating has informed the story stripped to the necessities. Tuesday evening’s efficiency by the Boston Symphony Orchestra beneath Andris Nelsons at Carnegie Corridor was maybe probably the most transferring but.
The conductor units the tone for any Wozzeck efficiency as a lot if no more than the singers. Andris Nelsons selected to emphasise the tortured struggling humanity of the work fairly than the tough cruelty or stark tragedy. His studying was extra lyrical in an virtually Mahler symphonic mode—hotter tonalities, connecting musical phrases in order that they flowed and rose and fell with the motion.
Consider me,that shattering atonal chord that emerges like a dam overflowing after the homicide of Marie and is damaged off by the tinkly piano within the following tavern scene was simply as jarring as ever. Nelsons didn’t easy over any tough or laborious edges in Berg’s rating. However he made certain he discovered the human coronary heart beating beneath the musical abstractions.
Nelsons was helped by an exceptionally warm-toned and full-voiced ensemble of vocal soloists led by the good Wozzeck of Danish baritone Bo Skovhus. Not one of the singers have been barking or shouting with tonally grayed out or wobbly voices.
Skovhus now not seems just like the blond Nordic hunk of his youthful Billy Budd and Don Giovanni days (again when he was Boje)—his head is shaved and as Wozzeck his tall physique seems hunched and someway damaged as if dozens of physique blows have shattered his backbone. The eyes are lifeless hole and the face is stoic and infrequently motionless. The growing paranoia and insanity appear to emerge from behind the eyes however his visage is opaque.
He has made a specialty of the function of Wozzeck in Europe (his American profession has been restricted and just lately virtually nonexistent). As a veteran performer of the function onstage, he was completely off e-book and eager to each musical and dramatic element. Even in live performance format, Skovhus was totally in character each second onstage with a physique as expressive as his voice. That voice stays a good-looking instrument stuffed with overtones however a lot darker in shade.
In distinction, dramatic soprano Christine Goerke was singing her first performances of Marie on this live performance collection. In October 2015, Goerke was overwhelming because the title antiheroine in Strauss’ Elektra with Nelsons and the Boston Symphony at Carnegie Corridor, so her return was extremely anticipated. Although she was depending on a rating, Goerke already confirmed a customized dramatic interpretation of the character and her darkly highly effective soprano was full of various colours and totally conscious of the numerous calls for of the rating.
Goerke’s Marie appeared a usually warm-hearted and fun-loving girl whose character had been worn down and hardened changing into bitter and defensive from grinding poverty, life’s disappointments and informal use and abuse by the hands of males. She longs for a little bit of brightness and enjoyable in her dreary life—whether or not or not it’s a army march on the street or a pair of pretend gold earrings from the Drum Main.
This Marie may lash out in defiance towards Wozzeck or the Drum Main with actual power (and searing high notes) whereas additionally whispering hole tones in her bible studying or demise scenes. The mezzo-like shade of Goerke’s center and decrease voice gave earthiness and foreboding to scenes of despair or worry.
The dimensions of her instrument tempted Nelsons to misjudge orchestral quantity in her scenes—just a few phrases in her lower-middle register received swamped by the overloud orchestra. One wonders what else Goerke will uncover within the function if (hopefully when) she performs it in a fully-staged efficiency.
The remainder of the forged was vivid in characterization and juicy in voice. One little bit of miscasting was English lyric tenor Toby Spence because the Captain—his plangent tones lacked the maniacal and neurotic edge for the character, he had little sense of the right way to deal with Sprechstimme and his performing missed the notice of apoplectic hysteria and worry. I missed Graham Clark and Gerhard Siegel’s fantastically grotesque interpretations. Spence remains to be extra an Andres than a Captain.
As Andres, Swiss tenor Mauro Peter had an unusually darkish and full-toned timbre for the character—maybe they may have switched roles? Heldentenor Christopher Ventris regarded and sounded fairly good-looking and imposing because the boorish sadistic Drum Main—his tenor rings out brightly with no pressure.
Veteran bass Franz Hawlata additionally confirmed expertise and command because the Physician totally capable of challenge character with a wealthy and nonetheless regular voice freed from Bayreuth bark or wobble. Renée Tatum introduced wealthy tone and malicious insouciance to the function of Marie’s neighbor Margret. None of those voices may very well be described as German character voices but all have been musically characterful and dramatically efficient.
The Boston Symphony emerged as the true star flip of the night exhibiting giant scale sweep, dramatic power and delicate precision in flip in symbiotic partnership with Maestro Nelsons—they startled with the ugliness within the rating after which broke your coronary heart with its mournful, shattering magnificence.
Photographs: Steve Sherman