Thursday, April 14, 2011

Maiden no more, or "You slept through The Guns of Navarone?!"*

Your intrepid reporter makes no bones about being a bel canto bear in a verismo world.  In order to broaden his horizons and serve you lot his adoring public, he took it upon himself to see Wozzeck at the Metropolitan Opera on Wednesday night.  Your reporter is not completely innocent to the music of Mr. Alban Berg and his contemporaries.  He has been to music school, remember.  (Studying 12-tone rows by candlelight on parchment might seem to present a challenge, but it's not insurmountable.)  However, he still refers to November 29, 1924, as The Day the Music Died.

Waltraud Meier and Alan Held
Having referred to himself as a Wozzeck virgin, your reporter can say that in some ways he wishes he still were, and in some ways he is.  He can't really fully  evaluate the performance he witnessed, largely because it was his first experience with Wozzeck, but also because he was not entirely conscious through the entire performance.  Yes, gentle reader, your humble reporter fell asleep during a performance of Wozzeck.

The tremendous ovation  James Levine received when he ascended to the podium in the pit warmed even the cockles of your reporter's otherwise bitter and frozen heart.  In fact, the New York Times review of the Wozzeck opening is entitled "Cheers for the Hero, Followed by an Opera".  The same review commented on the energy and sweep of the overall performance, as well as the singing and acting of all involved.  Poor Jimmy has suffered terribly with his health in recent years, and it is wonderful to see him conducting music that is dear to him.  It was bittersweet to see him take his bow at the close from the pit rather than the stage.

Sad to say, the story of Wozzeck is not as shocking in our age as in 1821, the time of the events that inspired the opera.  Impoverished and downtrodden soldier becomes delusional and kills his mistress in a fit of jealous rage.  The opera is based on the 1837 play Woyzeck by Georg Büchner, which, according to Wikipedia, was unfinished at Büchner's death and in fragments, but subsequently "completed" by various other writers.  (Yeah, I know Wikipedia is not considered an authoritative source.  Bite me.)  The version Berg saw in 1915 in Vienna was first performed in 1914 in Munich.  Berg's opera was premiered in 1925.  Both the play and the opera found great favor in war-torn Europe between the wars.

Wozzeck himself was sung by Alan Held.  One could see his torment, from within and without, from beginning to end in Held's performance.  Marie, a role associated with greats including Eleanor Steber, Evelyn Lear, and Marilyn Horne (opening of Gelsenkirchen's new opera house in 1960, debuts in San Francisco and Covent Garden in 1964).  Waltraud Meier was awarded a thunderous ovation for her performance in the role.

The supporting cast were all strong singers and actors.  Hunky heldentenor Stuart Skelton was the Drum Major who tempts Marie to stray.  Walter Fink was the Doctor, and Gerhard Siegel was the Captain, both very affecting and effective.

I'm sure further study and immersion would increase my appreciation of this opera.  How often have we said we needed to hear or see something another time to understand it better and not followed through?  There is not much danger your favorite bel canto bear will become a Bergian bear.

*You get a quarter if you get both of those references.

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