Presented by: Orchestra Wellington
Conducted by: Marc Taddei
Michael Fowler Centre, 11th Nov 2023
Reviewed by: Dawn Brook
Discordant, atonal, brutal, distressing? Yes! Wonderful? Yes!
Wozzeck is about an ordinary but vulnerable man, a soldier, whose self unravels as he sees horrible visions and faces poverty, exploitation, and humiliation. He struggles to provide for his child and wife, Marie, and he encounters every day the disdain of his so-called superiors, his fellow soldiers, and his wife and her lover. It is Marie’s tragedy too: she loves and fears for her child and is eventually killed by Wozzeck before he drowns himself. We know the child will suffer.
Wozzeck, written during and after World War I in which its composer Alban Berg was himself a soldier, is in three acts with five scenes in each, each separated by a short orchestral interlude. The orchestra was only 39 strong and while cacophonous at times, it did not overwhelm the singers. The instruments were often used in small combinations. Their parts brilliantly underlined the emotional state of the singers.
The opera was presented semi-staged and, thankfully, with English surtitles. Perhaps inevitably, the performance seemed to me rather better musically than it was dramatically. All six main soloists, each an artist of international standing, were excellent. Madeleine Pierard has the most wonderful spun tone. Julien Van Mellaerts’ voice was smooth, secure, and expressive. American Corey Bix as the condescending Captain and Paul Whelan as the pretentious Doctor not only contributed strong vocal performances, but injected some rare humour into this tragic tale. Jason Collins as the ‘other man’ was equally strong. The Tudor Consort provided excellent chorus voices.
The work may have frightened some of the usual Orchestra Wellington patrons off. It was a bold decision to perform it. It cannot be an easy work for soloists, chorus, or orchestra. Orchestra Wellington is to be congratulated for programming Wozzeck and all performers for pulling it off so successfully.