Zurich Opera brought Alban Berg Wozzeck to the Royal Festival Hall, London . Fabio Luisi conducted Philharmonia Zurich and a very good cast in a concert performance. With all pretence at staging removed (apart from natural good acting) we could focus on the sheer musical audacity of Berg's writing, and pick up on the processes the music employs to create the drama. Wozzeck describes a whole community caught up in insane delusions. Wozzeck is at the vortex, but his story began long before, and will certainly continue.
Luisi's Wozzeck felt like a tightly twisted knot, building up tensions that reflect the maze-like inner complexities in the score, What a viscerally physical performance! The orchestra played like athletes, very strong men (and women) pulling the knot tighter with spirited, energetic playing, prickling with suppressed violence. "Eine Apoplexia cerebri" sings the Doctor (Lars Woldt), terrifying the Captain (Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhake). Our brains could explode at any time.
In the final scenes, Berg creates invisible curtains of sound that conceal what we might see on stage, but speak powerfully in abstract sound. Wozzeck is silenced, but the orchestra screams in outrage. The Doctor and the Captain recognize the sounds as groans, but do not respond. The children tell Marie's son that her body is lying in the open. He can't respond, for his is a silent part. What little we do glimpse of him lies in what Wozzeck sings about him, and the way the child cowers to escape trauma. Consider that, when the children go back to their games. "Hopp hopp, Hopp hopp", as if nothing has happened. If you can leave a good Wozzeck unmoved, you become sucked into the cycle of cruelty, like the Doctor, Captain and the cruel children.
This review will appear in Opera Today. Performance photo : Belinda Lawley