Wozzeck at YBCA: A Terrible Delight (01/30/10)

 Bojan Knezevic as Wozzeck, John Dukyers as the CaptainWhy, why, why did Ensemble Parallèle’s Wozzeck only run at YBCA for two evenings?  The production, with a reorchestrated score by John Rea, was a terrible delight. I left the theater a little stunned, wishing I could see it again. 

Of course, I’m a sucker for early 20th century opera: atonal, intensely psychological, dark. And Wozzeck is a prime example of such. The title character is a low-ranking soldier subject to paranoid delusions. At the mercy of his brutal captain and a psychotic doctor who performs inhumane experiment on him for pay, Wozzeck barely seems to make it through the scenes.

So troubled is Wozzeck that he can barely interact with his beloved, only hand money to her and flit off, all but ignoring their illegitimate child. Marie, said beloved, soon finds solace in the arms of a dashing drum major. Beaten down by society (society!), and goaded into a jealous rage by the doctor and captain, Wozzeck kills Marie. And it’s based on a true story. Aaand Berg served in the Austrian Army during WWI, so surely some painful real-life experiences underlie the opera. What’s not to love?

Ensemble Parallèle’s Wozzeck was engrossing.  The production was even and the pacing was smooth, allowing the great psychological force of the opera to emerge. Conductor Nicole Paiment directed the musicians beautifully; the lush, atonal score seemed to breathe with the singers. Versatile bass-baritone Bojan Knezevic portrayed Wozzeck with the right amount of desperation and restraint. Soprano Patricia Green put in a solid turn as Marie. And John Bischoff was especially memorable as the First Apprentice, though other singers turned in bright performances. 


The production even made use of  video, which *shockingly* worked most of the time. Two techs on stage filmed Wozzeck shaving the captain and the doctor experimenting on (torturing?) Wozzeck. The video was projected on the back wall, in black and white, recalling early motion pictures. (I admit that I enjoyed being able to see the nuances of the captain’s face writ large.) Even the red moon, which was projected as Wozzeck became enraged and increased in size with his anger, was somehow pleasing. The spare sets rotated to form different scenes, and were not distracting.

side note: Is it just me or is there more good opera being produced by smaller companies lately? Urban Opera’s August 2009 run of  Dido and Aeneas being another…

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