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San Francisco Take Up Wozzeck Challenge

San Francisco
War Memorial Opera House
11/02/1999 -  and 5*, 7, 9, 13, and 17, November, 1999
Alban Berg: Wozzeck
Alan Held (Wozzeck), Hildegard Behrens (Marie), Dennis Petersen/Kenneth Riegel (The Captain), Christopher Lincoln (Andres), Alex Benet (Marie’s child), Elena Bocharova (Margret), Mark Lundberg (Drum Major), Michael Eder (Doctor), Philip Skinner (First Apprentice), Alfredo Daza (Second Apprentice), Joseph Frank (The Fool), Jim Croom (A Soldier)
Orchestra and Chorus of the San Francisco Opera, Michael Boder (Conductor)
Lotfi Mansouri (Stage Director)

When Alban Berg’s first opera, Wozzeck first premiered in 1925 it presented a major challenge. A challenge for both performers and audiences alike with it’s new vocabulary and musical idiom as well as its unstinting look at the dark underside of humanity. Today, almost sixty-five years later, the work is still a challenging, demanding work for all participants.
San Francisco Opera’s current production tackles the work with considerable success. Lotfi Mansouri, who staged the production when it was new last time around, was once again the director for this revival. He capitalizes on the dramatic possibilities with a clear, straightforward presentation that focuses on the coldness and bleakness of the story.
Michael Levine’s set design, which suggests the cinematic quality of the score and libretto with its split-stage setting, further creates an atmosphere of harsh inhumanity.
In the title role, Held sang the role with unfailing intensity and stamina and a consistently firm, round tone. He scrupulously attended to Berg’s markings, applying sprechtstimme without resorting to barking. But his characterization was more problematic. From the very start, this was a defeated Wozzeck with virtually no apparent humanity remaining. With seeing the spirit crushing process, the story is no longer tragic, but only pathetic, and the cathartic impact is severely diminished.
In fine voice and dramatically as intense as ever, Behrens gave Marie a searing individuality. Behrens throws herself into a role and a performance like few singers today. Risking all and saving nothing, when it works as it did in this performance, the results are overwhelming.
The supporting cast all gave nice detailed, well sung performances. In particular Dennis Petersen’s cocky Captain and Michael Eder’s icy, eerie Doctor added to the drama of Wozzeck.
Michael Boder took full advantage of the orchestra’s principal role in the opera, unleashing a torrent of sound at times and giving the score its full theatrical due.

Kelly Snyder



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