Wozzeck - Royal Opera House, 31 October 2013
I didn't think it was possible to screw up Wozzeck until I saw Carrie Cracknell's 'post-Iraq' ENO production earlier this year, a misreading that replaced the general with the specific, paranoia with logic, angst with social conscience, playing up to the London audience's TV-nourished passion for simple storylines in ultra-realistic settings, no matter how the underlying work is betrayed.
Keith Warner's 2002 ROH production is not perfect, but at least we see that Wozzeck's crisis is an existential one, not a social problem that can be solved by a few quid and a bit of counselling.
Warner splits the stage in two. The main part is a mildewed laboratory, Wozzeck's mind turned inside out, where he paranoically imagines the torments of a cartoonish Captain and Doctor. Scenery is bottled up in glass tanks like specimens - as is Wozzeck himself in the spectacular denouement. Shoved into one corner is a small wooden room, sparsely but realistically furnished, like a set for La bohème. Here we find real people living outside Wozzeck's delusions - Marie, his child, the pub crowd.
Simon Keenlyside's Wozzeck is as finely sung as his UK role debut with the Philharmonia in 2011, but his distressed-gentlefolk demeanour never hints at the sort of rage and terror Matthias Goerne summoned up in the production's first run. Equally, Karita Mattila can't quite lower herself to inhabit the role of the village slut. Marie is now an excellent choice for her vocally though, showcasing the still-gleaming middle register, skating over some hoarseness and thinning at the top. Support comes principally from John Tomlinson and Gerhard Siegel, who set into Wozzeck with overscaled glee, and the piercing tenor of Endrik Wottrich as the Drum Major.
On this first night performance, Mark Elder conducted a bitty and perhaps under-rehearsed first half, with the orchestra not really settling until late on. The massive fortissimo chords that herald the dramatic conclusion were brilliantly timed and executed, truly shocking even if expected. Elsewhere theatrical impact was curiously muted, as if Keenlyside and Mattila's elegance had rubbed off on the orchestra. I would expect or at least hope for better performances later in the run.
If you're going, try to sit as centrally as possible and not too high up to see the spectacular mirrored backdrop to best advantage.
production photos (above) Catherine Ashmore/Royal Opera House
curtain call photos (below) intermezzo.typepad.com