Last weekend, I had the opportunity to see the Lyric Opera’s premiere of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. The matinee show fell on a beautiful day, warm with lingering fall; fitting weather for a show equally beautiful, layered and rich with an observation of the human existence.
Wozzeck is a story of a soldier living in poverty and his spiral to “madness and murder” as he navigates working to support Marie, the woman with whom he had a child out of wedlock, while suffering constant mistreatment from his superiors. The plot is fascinating, fast-paced and complex.
Although the opera is in German, Lyric projects well-timed English translations above the stage.
Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis and directed by Sir David McVicar, the show at Lyric delivers this story with passion. As the title role, bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny gives a raw, emotionally-charged performance only matched by dramatic soprano Angela Denoke as Marie. The two are electric with chemistry. Furthermore, the ensemble is one of dedicated performers that only intensify Wozzeck’s dramatic impact.
A true victory in Wozzeck is the world in which the story takes place. Designed by Vicki Mortimer, the sets of the show are stunning, complicated and as layered as Wozzeck’s inner turmoil. The set pieces (many of which are flown in) are complex and intentional — the attention to detail is impeccable, building an environment that enhances the spectacle confined to a mere 100 minutes. Every scene has a life and environment of its own while keeping to a cohesive, industrial-like feeling that envelops the opera from start to finish.
One particular scene involves a giant magnifying glass-like circle that allows audience members a close up view to the smaller action happening on stage. The importance of the action as well as the set pieces surrounding the glass create an environment unfazed by this more unrealistically styled piece.
Scenes change with a pull of a blood-spattered curtain. The transition differs in speed depending on the mood or urgency of the plot, and the movement allows the build of momentum scene-to-scene. A lack of intermission does the same.
Lighting design by Paule Constable is similarly breathtaking. A warm glow shifts to hard white or blood red as the story changes, and the curtains with which transitions are made allow the show to play with shadows. The lighting transitions are not uncomfortably jarring and, like the sets, carry a sense of cohesion.
The musical style of the opera is so quick to change that if caught me off guard at first; I grew accustomed to it, and the power of each scene came alive with the intensity of the orchestra. Each scene has its own unique presentation of visual and a sometimes alarming musical style — Wozzeck renews curiosity with the pull of every new scene.
With adventurous music and an intense plot, Lyric Opera’s Wozzeck is an aesthetically victorious show from start to finish.