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Warlikowski's direction of Wozzeck is impressive, but does not grab you by the throat

We have to perform, from an early age. If you don't go along with that, you will be left out. It is the thrust of the opera Wozzeck by Alban Berg, which can now be seen at De Nationale Opera directed by Krzystof Warlikowski. The Polish theatre innovator has turned one of the most dramatic operas in music history into a fascinating musical spectacle. His staging is imposing, but gripping it is not.

Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck is based on a true story. In 1824, the young soldier and day labourer Woyzeck was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend and sentenced to death. Inspired by this tragedy, Austrian Georg Büchner wrote the play Woyzeck. Alban Berg used this story for his first opera: Wozzeck (1925). An accessible opera is Wozzeck not. Berg belonged to a group of composers (The Second Viennese School) who composed modern experimental and highly expressive music. Briefly described is Wozzeck a play with music. By applying the so-called twelve-tone technology harmonic sounds are mostly missing. Berg also uses Sprechgesang, an intermediate form between speaking and singing. But melancholic song fragments can also be heard.

Wozzeck has a mental disorder; he suffers from schizophrenia and anxiety disorder. He has delusions. His madness is fuelled by the canine treatment by the captain he shaves, by his wife Marie's cheating and by the doctor using him as a guinea pig for experiments. At the end, he kills Marie and commits suicide. Their little son is left alone.

Director Warlikowski has not focused on the individual tension of Wozzeck's madness. The director wants us to see Wozzeck's frustrations through a variety of telling scenes and performances. In a interview he says he views Wozzeck through the eyes of Wozzeck's son. So the original libretto is not literally followed here. And the little boy is constantly present

Neurotic niece

The show begins with a group of children stylishly dressed performing a ballroom dance on a virtually empty stage. How high is the performance pressure of these dancing children? High. But as an audience, we don't experience that because it looks so endearing. Here, as in our lives, the beautiful artificial outside hides the twisted inside. So it is with the mad Wozzeck who is presented seemingly incorruptible in an immaculate white barber's coat. Incidentally, a strong role by Christopher Maltman, who, with his beautiful earthy baritone voice, nevertheless gives his character a somewhat static and not very demonic stature. Wozzeck doesn't seem crazy, it is rather the neurotic faggot captain with his wig that attracts attention. Every moment you expect him to grab someone's throat. Tenor Marcel Beekman plays this awkward character amusingly and sings his vocal part beautifully in almost accentless German.

Soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek gives Marie a colourful interpretation of her difficult emotional life. She manages to shape her big voice very agilely into the expressive Sprechgesang by Berg. Although tenor Frank van Aken (Westbroek's husband) has a minor role as the macho Tambourine Major, this one is certainly not unremarkable. He plays this role with great playing energy, as does bass Sir Williard White as the tough doctor.

Sloerie

Marie looks a bit slouchy in her black shimmering gala dress. She, too, is unstable. At first, she is worried about Wozzeck's behaviour, but when she cheats with the Tambourine major, she simply rejects him. Guiltily, she seeks support in the Bible by taking turns reading from it with her infant son. These scenes are set in front of a glitter curtain and look cute, but this too is unreal and suggests a happiness that is not there.

Besides small dramatic scenes like this, there are many pompous scenes with many characters in a crammed setting. For instance, you see Wozzeck, Marie and the Tambourine Major in a theatre restaurant. In this large scene, a lead singer stands behind a microphone, you see ballroom children playing, a male choir and a transvestite sitting knitting (a figure from Shrek?). In another scene, an entire Stage Orchestra enters the stage and plays music at a sensitive moment.

It's all a lot.

Wozzeck at DNO is so impressively staged that you almost miss how adequately the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Marc Albrecht, plays. The orchestra especially shines in the beautiful Mahlerian passages that accentuate the dramatic moments.

Good to know

Wozzeck By Alban Berg by The National Opera. Seen: premiere 18 March. Still to be seen until 9 April 2017.

1 thought on “Warlikowski’s regie van Wozzeck is imposant, maar grijpt je niet bij de strot”

  1. "The original libretto is therefore not followed verbatim here." should be: "The libretto is not followed".

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Rudolf Hunnik

Rudolf Hunnik is a cultural journalist, trainer and film programmer. For more information visit www.diversityathome.nlView Author posts

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