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Berg Wozzeck
Royal Opera House, London 7 Mar 2006


Conductor: Daniel Harding
Director: Keith Warner
Set Designs: Stefanos Lazaridis
Costume Designs: Marie-Jeanne Lecca
Lighting: Rick Fisher

Captain: Graham Clark
Wozzeck: Johan Reuter
Andres: Peter Bronder
Marie: Susan Bullock
Margret: Claire Powell
Doctor: Kurt Rydl
Drum Major: Jorma Silvasti
First Apprentice: Jeremy White
Second Apprentice: Quentin Hayes
Idiot: Francis Egerton

This is certainly a well rehearsed revival of Covent Garden's latest production and it ran smoothly, given without interval, under Daniel Harding's firm control.

Every word is important and the diction generally good, but the sur-titles still help and it is good that they are now standard (for opera in English at ENO too - a great deal of Vaughan-Williams' archaic libretto for Sir John in Love would have escaped native English speakers, let alone foreign opera fans).

There are no serious let-downs in the singing, and the stage coordination is efficient. The drab costumes are a disappointment (surely the Drum Major has to be resplendent in uniform?).

Wozzeck is one of the most concise of operas, in an unusual genre - setting a play virtually word for word; V-W's Riders to the Sea is another example - but it does really need to be played in three acts - and with curtain down for the orchestral interludes - to make its best effect and to get across Berg's highly wrought structural design, expounded by Douglas Jarman in the estimable fully illustrated programme book; costly, but worth aquiring and studying.

A full set of Bill Cooper's photos from this tricksy production is available with the current reviews collected by The Opera Critic, so I contrast Stefanos Lazaridis's glass tank (above), representing the bloodied murder pool in which Johan Reuter will drown like a Damien Hirst 'sculpture', contrasting drastically with the long enduring Caspar Neher set (evocative even in black & white, below) which served the ROH well for two decades (Erich Kleiber conducting 1952/53). I do not find any progress manifest in the comparison!

Keith Warner has some telling notions and gets good accounts of his ideas, but a lot of them are gratuitous and add nothing, e.g. having the little boy tied to his bedstead so that he cannot get to ride his hobby-horse, and the disembodied voices from loudspeakers around the theatre for the - usually poignant - last scene just don't work.

You might well do far better to stay home and watch the superb Vienna/Abbado Arthaus DVD (Arthaus 100256 c.£18 from Amazon*****) taking pauses between the Acts.

And after that, treat yourself to the superb Herzog/Kinski film of Wozzeck (included with five others in a ridiculously cheap boxed set) which leaves you even wondering for a moment whether Berg actually added very much to Buchner's play (he did!).

You could have all these 7 DVDs for the price of a good seat at ROH for Wozzeck, even at their seriously reduced pricing for this opera!

Makes you think?


For considered opinions of the Warner/Lazaridis revival and its original production see Anne Ozorio and Melanie Eskenazi in Seen & Heard

Production Photos (Clive Barda & Bill Cooper) from ROH collection

© Peter Grahame Woolf