Berg: Wozzeck

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Arthaus
WORKS: Wozzeck
PERFORMER: Grundheber, Behrens/OaudioAbbado;dir. Adolf Dresen (Vienna State Opera, 1987)
The most humane and socially aware of operas, Berg’s Wozzeck gets the full short-sharp-shock treatment in Adolf Dresen’s starkly economical and refreshingly concept-free 1987 Vienna State Opera staging, with musical values to match. Being an Arthaus reissue, this DVD version offers no presentational frills or technical thrills, but both picture and sound are crisp and clear, while Brian Large’s video direction, with plentiful close-ups, captures all the production’s kitchen-sink grittiness and claustrophobic intensity. If there’s one cavil, it’s that the camera keeps returning to Abbado and his orchestra for the interludes: since Berg’s scene-change music is always an extension of the drama, the last thing you need to sec is arm-waving maestros or scraping fiddlers, no matter how brilliantly they play. And they do. The cast too is superb, led by Franz Grundheber’s haunted, tortured Wozzeck (powerfully enunciated, never bawled) and Hildegard Behrens’s devastatingly honest Marie, beautifully sung but bravely played as a worn-out slag in a flimsy pink slip. Her murder, as a blood-red gash spreads across the sky and Wozzcck cradles her spasmodically twitching corpse, is shocking indeed. Mark Pappenheim