DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

BERG: Wozzeck (complete opera) (2013)

A superb television production from 1994, limited in visual and audio scope, but still very well presented.

Published on October 15, 2013

BERG: Wozzeck (complete opera) (2013)

BERG: Wozzeck (complete opera) (2013)

Franz Grundheber (Wozzeck)/Waltraud Meier (Marie)/ Graham Clark (Hauptmann)/ Gunter von Kannon (Doktor)/ Mark Baker (Tambourmajor)/ Staatskapelle Berlin/ Staatsopernchor/ Daniel Barenboim
Director: Patrice Chereau 
Studio: EuroArts 2066758, shot in 1994 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 4:3 color 
Audio: PCM Stereo
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian
All Regions
Length: 97 minutes
Rating: ****

Wozzeck truly is what everyone says it’s supposed to be—a modern expressionist masterpiece. Eight years in the making, the opera is based on the drama Woyzeck left incomplete by the German playwright Georg Büchner at his death. Berg saw the work performed in 1914 at its premiere, and his sensibilities were immediately aroused—he knew he had to set the play to music. Before long he had contrived 15 scenes from the somewhat haphazard organization of the written text, and created a structure of three acts with five relatively short scenes in each. If there is a weakness it comes in the not-too-clear indications of the depth of the previous relationship between Wozzeck and Marie. We are sometimes startled at his reactions to her current romantic entanglements because the intensity of her feelings for Wozzeck and his for her are not clear. Nevertheless, Berg improved on the original and created a masterly portrayal of a man stripped of all dignity and humanity, so much so that he loses his mind and murders his only heartfelt love. The brutality of the experience is made plain for all to see, naked and unadorned.

Berg’s music however, is anything but unadorned, using classical forms in new ways, fugues, variations (on melody, rhythm, even one note), and varied dance forms to convey structure. He is not even above word painting in a very literal manner, making for a descriptive masterpiece of the highest order. The singers however, must be far more than merely competent—they must act, speak-song, and use all sorts of expressive mannerisms on order to fully convey the intricate and highly-developed musical minutiae present in Berg’s score. In this production, at the Berlin State Opera in 1994, Waltraud Meier, one of Daniel Barenboim’s favorite singers at the time, gives a magnificent performance of the unfaithful, confused, anti-heroine Marie. Her performance is full of sympathy, completely on top of the role in every manner, and sung with fire and subtlety. Franz Grundheber is about as disconcerting and manically remorseful as any Wozzeck portrayal I have seen or heard, making us very uncomfortable with him right from the beginning, the type of person we feel sorry for yet have no desire to assist or be around. And Hauptmann, the Captain who first exploits Wozzeck’s weaknesses, if played to wonderfully creepy effect by Graham Clarke. The rest of the cast is very good, the sets stark but perfectly appropriate, and it’s only the rather dullish TV picture and okay-but-not-spectacular audio that keeps this from being a top choice. As is, because of its performance virtues, definitely recommended.

—Steven Ritter




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