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A Soldier's Tale

New York
Metropolitan Opera House
12/27/2005 -  
Alban Berg : Wozzeck
Katarina Dalayman (Marie)
Jill Grove (Margret)
Alan Held (Wozzeck)
Graham Clark (Captain)
Walter Fink (Doctor)
Clifton Forbis (Drum Major)
John Horton Murray (Andres)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
James Levine (conductor)

It is a new year, but not necessarily a happy one at the Metropolitan Opera. Business is bad, the number of seats sold hovering in the 70 to 80 percent range. General manger designate Peter Gelb is already interviewing pop stars to come in and save the house deus ex machina. Cheered on by the New York Times (Mr. Gelb is the son of their former managing editor), he is promoting crossover concerts and “family friendly” cut-down versions of operas. The use of microphones for the special guests at this week’s performance of Fledermaus was especially disturbing. The era of the asterisk at the Met has begun.

The bad news was that there were rows of empty seats for Tuesday’s premiere of Wozzeck, but the good news was the youthful demographic of the crowd. Both phenomena were undoubtedly influenced by the timing of the performance between Christmas and New Year’s. There is not much comfort nor joy in Berg’s chilling vision.

It is difficult to write about this Wozzeck because it is simply the best realization, at least orchestrally, that anyone is ever likely to hear. James Levine is the work’s acknowledged master and he is still in top form, even appearing a little more energetic than on most occasions. The underlying commentary from the pit was ravishing, not only in the sense of beauty but also of pillaging. Culminating in that final interlude, this was a magnificent instrumental effort.

I don’t want to go all “the snow was so much deeper when I was a kid” on you, but the principals were not as effective as previous Levine casts, or even those of Karl Boehm in the old house. Alan Held was a solid soldier vocally, but seemed to be toiling in a different production from his cast mates. While they were by and large in a Brechtian universe – the Margret of Jill Grove channeling Miss Lotte Lenya herself – Held was surprisingly even-tempered, not really exhibiting insanity until his death scene. A giant of a man, he seemed more a Gulliver than a Wozzeck, acting neither robotically nor maniacally, neither Mack Harrell nor Klaus Kinski. It was a good performance, but not a particularly involving one.

The other men were all fabulous. Graham Clark is the ideal Captain and the only holdover from previous Levine years. Making his Met debut was Walter Fink who was both rich vocally and impressive as an actor. And John Horton Murray, filling in on short notice, was a competent Andres. Only the Drum Major of Clifton Forbis was disappointing and this is a concern, since he was recently chosen to be the new Siegmund at the Met when Domingo retires from the role. He has two years to prepare and will need every day of them.

The Mark Lamos set is superb, but what happened to the slanted floor in the tavern scene? What used to be a claustrophobic trompe d’oeil tableau is now just a study in light and shadow.

Finally, Katarina Dalayman was quite good in the role of Marie, sweetly singing many of the passages that are normally spoken or “speech-sung” in the signature second Viennese style. But she was somewhat unfocused as an actress, nowhere near the innocent caught in the web of fatalism of Hildegard Behrens or, in the old house, Helga Pilarczyk. She simply never moved me. But I must be careful not to be too critical. After all, the next Marie might very well be Celine Dion.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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