The 1987 recording of Berg’s Wozzeck from the Vienna State Opera is a bit of a mixed bag. Claudio Abbado’s reading of the score is incredibly intense and powerful and he gets great support from the orchestra, There’s also some very good singing. Dramatically it’s a bit of a mixed bag and the DVD production isn’t particularly good.
Adolf Dresen’s production is pretty much entirely literal. It follows the instructions in the libretto to the letter. There’s nothing especially interesting about it visually but there is nothing awful either. The general acting style, as epitomised by Franz Grundheber in the title role, could be interpreted as either appropriate expressionism or over-acting. For me, it more or less works in the context of this particular piece. The one person who transcends this is Hildegard Behrens as Marie who really makes this most difficult role come to life. Walter Raffeiner’s swaggering Tabourmajor is of a piece with the rest of the production but the minor characters don’t really make much impression.
Musically it’s good. Abbado gets a really compelling performance out of the orchestra and the singing never lets him down. Again Behrens is the star but there is a nice cameo as Andres from Philip Langridge. There are no obvious weak links.
The DVD is bare bones. The LPCM stereo sound is pretty decent but the 4:3 picture is barely adequate. It’s hard to blame video director Brian Large for using lots of close ups because the picture quality isn’t up to much else. There are no extras, subtitles are English only and the documentation is absolutely minimal as one has come to expect from Kultur.
I guess this would be an OK introduction to Wozzeck for someone who wanted a very literal production though one might be better served for that by the Met version under Levine (I haven’t seen it but I’ve heard good things). If rigid adherence to the original staging concept is not a priority then there are several superior offerings.