Berg's Wozzeck

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James Levine conducts Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, in a production that stars Alan Held as the soldier of the title role and Waltraud Meier as Marie, his mistress. The story of a young, poor couple and their run-ins with the law, madness, strange doctors, powerful hallucinations and cheating lovers culminates in a murder based on an actual crime in 1824.

The opera is celebrated for both its dramatic effect, and for having done its part to shift the course of 20th century composition. With Wozzeck, Berg’s style veers toward exaggerated speech, through the use of sprechstimme or spoken-song techniques.

The haunting and at times atonal score may be challenging at points, but it is built upon a foundation of such traditional music forms as the passacaglia, rhapsody, suite, sonata, fantasia and fugue. Yet, to wind his musical way through the story, Berg calls upon additions that include an out-of-tune upright piano, a bombardon (like a low-pitched tuba) and an accordion.

Wozzeck had its premiere at the Berlin State Opera on December 14, 1925. Initial reviews were mixed, with one critic of the newspaper Deutsche Zeitung likening the experience to spending time in “an insane asylum.” Despite this early cold water, the opera soon found its way into the standard repertoire. Within its first decade, Wozzeck was performed over 1,200 times in nearly 30 European cities. The opera had its Met premiere on March 5, 1959.

Berg wrote only two operas in his life—Wozzeck and Lulu, the latter left unfinished at the time of his death at the age of 50. He also wrote chamber and orchestra pieces, piano works and songs.

Cast and credits:

Conductor: James Levine
Marie: Waltraud Meier
Drum Major: Stuart Skelton
Captain: Gerhard Siegel
Wozzeck: Alan Held
Doctor: Walter Fink
Production: Mark Lamos