Although Berg’s Wozzeck enjoyed triumphant performances at St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre in 1927, the work was completely neglected in Russia until this production was mounted at the Bolshoi Theatre in 2010. That such a masterpiece could have been overlooked, even after the demise of the Soviet regime, seems inexplicable, and there’s little doubt that much credit for this significant revival must be given to Teodor Currentzis, whose committed conducting inspires the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra to deliver an urgent account of the score.
As is further explained in the stimulating documentary that accompanies the opera performance, director Dmitri Tcherniakov has chosen to recast Wozzeck in a contemporary context, as a purely psychological drama exploring the inertia of life in the metropolis. The main characters cannot communicate with each other and play out fantasy roles of violence, humiliation and duplicity so as to escape the emptiness of the real world. This strategy works well up to a point, particularly in the scenes involving soprano Mardi Byers as a hapless and tormented Marie. But Tcherniakov’s decision to ignore the opera’s social message, in particular Wozzeck’s straitened existence, wreaks havoc with Berg’s libretto. Furthermore, in this production it takes a leap of faith to accept that Wozzeck hasn’t in fact committed suicide and at the end of the opera is still on stage, desperately attempting to make conversation with his dead wife.