Wozzeck is a tricky piece for a director. There seem to be two possible approaches. One can find a character for Wozzeck himself that resonates with contemporary audiences and treat the piece more or less realistically. That’s the approach taken by both Bieito and Tcherniakov. Alternatively one can run with the overtly expressionist aspects of the piece and present it in a more abstract way as Peter Mussbach did. Andreas Homoki’s 2015 Zürich production takes the second route. The piece is presented as if the characters are puppets in a puppet theatre in a sort of ultra-grim version of Punch and Judy. It’s visually quite arresting and there are some very well composed scenes. To give just one example, immediately after Wozzeck has decapitated Marie the chorus appear as nightmarish Maries while Wozzeck sits nursing the severed head. That said, the concept does pall and maybe hasn’t really got the legs, absent any other real directorial ideas, to carry the piece for two hours.
The concept is reflected in the acting and the characterization. It works well for the Drum Major, the Doctor and the Captain who are all quite nighmarish and well played and sung by Brandon Jovanovich, Lars Woldt and Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacker. What’s not so convincing is the human side of either Wozzeck or Marie. If fact, this Wozzeck without agency seems a bit of a waste of the considerable talents of Christian Gerhaher though he sings with power and precision. In some ways Gun-Brit Barkmin’s Marie comes off as even more one dimensional; the pious, motherly side of Marie almost completely subsumed in a kind of cartoon slut persona. But once again the singing is top notch. Fabio Luisi conducts and really brings out the textures in this strangely structured, fascinating score.
Michael Beyer’s filming is excellent. The stage is often quite empty but he always gives us enough visual context to understand what is going on. The sound (DTS-HD) and picture on Blu-ray are very good though I don’t think this is the sort of production that demands great resolution. It’s probably fine on DVD too. There are no extras on the disk but the chunky booklet contains interviews with Homoki and Luisi as well as a transcript of a radio interview that Berg gave in Vienna in 1930. All three interviews are intelligent and insightful and about as far removed from the patronising drivel in the Met’s Lulu recording as could be. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Korean and Japanese.
So, a bit of a curiosity. I expected more from Gerhaher’s Wozzeck than I felt I got. I think Bieito remains my personal first choice for this piece.