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Berg: Wozzeck / Currentzis, Muravitsky, Nigl, Byers, Paster

Berg / Nigl / Orch & Chorus Of Bolshoi
Release Date: 10/30/2012 
Label:  Bel Air Classiques   Catalog #: 68  
Composer:  Alban Berg
Performer:  Mardi ByersMaksim PasterRoman MuravitskyPiotr Migunov,   ... 
Conductor:  Teodor Currentzis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bolshoi Theatre OrchestraBolshoi Theatre Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BERG Wozzeck & Teodor Currentzis, cond; Georg Nigl ( Wozzeck ); Mardi Byers ( Marie ); Maxim Paster ( Captain ); Pyotr Migunov ( Doctor ); Roman Muravitsky ( Drum major ); Roman Shulakov ( Andres ); Xenia Vyaznikova Read more ( Margret ); Bolshoi Theatre Ch & O BEL AIR CLASSIQUE 068 (DVD: 135:00) Live: Moscow 11/2010

& The making of Wozzeck (23:00)

This is a powerful and scary production of Wozzeck. Director Dmitri Tcherniakov, who has apparently also updated Eugene Onegin, Macbeth, and Dialogues of the Carmelites, shifts the plot away from poverty and soldiery and into the heart of modern life. I can’t speak for the effectiveness of his other productions, but in this one Wozzeck is an everyday business worker—not, perhaps, a manager but one of the many “suits” who inhabit an office, almost interchangeable with his co-workers as well as with those who live in the same apartment building with him. Neither he nor his wife, Marie, can relate to each other when they’re together as a family—they barely make eye contact, let alone talk to one another—but as it turns out Wozzeck has a rich and somewhat kinky “virtual life.” Meeting people online, he gets into role-playing with another neighbor who pretends to be a “Captain” while he is an underling. With another, he is the “patient” to that man’s “doctor.” Only in kinky role-playing can he express any emotions or open up.

Emotionally alone, Marie seeks companionship in a bar. Tarted up, she teases a burly man who she refers to as a “Drum major,” her own little fling at fantasy role play, but then when he goes too far—at least the first time—she flees from him and runs home. Their son seems even more detached from either of them than they are from each other. All he really lives for is the big-screen TV that is on day and night in his apartment, either watching what’s on the tube or using his PlayStation remote to access a Wii auto race. In the scene where Marie is singing to him, the boy completely ignores her until she takes the remote away from him, and then his only goal is to get it back. He never so much as listens to a word she’s saying.

To a certain extent, I felt that Wozzeck’s breakdown, mental as well as emotional, was less justified given his better financial condition and the fact that he is not really undergoing medical experiments for a few dollars to bring home to Marie. On the other hand, one can here imagine that Wozzeck is prone to insanity anyway, but has managed to hide it under the smothering yet protective blanket of virtual reality. Your first glimpse of this is the scene with the “Captain,” when he suddenly breaks character and goes after his tormentor—not something that was expected by the “Captain.” It’s also rather chilling when Wozzeck kills Marie in their own apartment, while their son is out. The scene in which he supposedly wades into a river to hide the knife takes place entirely in his mind. When the lights come up again, Wozzeck is sitting at his kitchen table, chatting freely and easily with Marie’s corpse. Their son comes in and, not noticing anything, simply picks up the remote, turns on the TV screen and accesses his Wii car race game again. (I almost hoped that when he sings “Hip hop, hip hop,” that he might have turned on a hip-hop artist!)

Aiding this production’s effectiveness is an extremely fine cast. Maxim Paster, as the Captain, possesses an outstanding high tenor voice that reaches easily up to the high C (twice) in his opening scene. Pyotr Migunov, as the Doctor, behaves in an almost comically mad manner, pacing up and down the room, standing on his sofa and bearing a crazy grin as he suggests that Wozzeck needs further medical experiments, and he has a fine baritone voice. Xenia Vyaznikova, in the small but crucial role of Marie’s friend Margret, also has an excellent voice, as does the rather burly-looking Roman Muravitsky as the Drum major.

Yet it is the two principals who make or break a production of Wozzeck, and both Georg Nigl and Mardi Byers are fully up to their tasks. Nigl, I discovered online, is a former Vienna Boys’ Choir soprano…there’s a career change for you, from singing Bach and Telemann with the Wiener Knabenchor to being a psychopath in Wozzeck! His favorite roles, he says, are Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Mozart’s Papageno and Wozzeck because they are all “human characters with an inherent brokenness.” Byers, aside from singing Marie, sticks primarily to traditional soprano roles like Amelia in Simon Boccanegra, Aida, Tosca, Adriana Lecouvreur, Elisabetta in Don Carlo, etc. She has an outstanding, beautiful, and well-placed lyric soprano voice, capable of both extraordinary flexibility (singing Marie certainly calls for flexibility!) and great expression. Overall, I did not find her acting quite as riveting, or as natural-looking, as the equally surprising Marie of Sena Jurinac in Rolf Liebermann’s 1970 production for the Hamburg Opera, but Jurinac set a very high standard that I don’t think too many other sopranos are going to equal.

In the 23-minute bonus showing interviews with Tcherniakov, Currentzis, Nigl, and Byers, the conductor makes the point that he tried to lead this music in what he calls a “more lyrical style,” in order to establish as much as possible a connection to “normality” so that the shock of the more violent scenes is more vivid. I was also struck by something Byers said, that people recognizing her in the street stopped her and told her how much they were moved by this production, how much they understood what the director was trying to convey. Indeed, this is as good an example as any of how an opera can be updated and still retain its value as a theatrical experience without stooping to Eurotrash.

Very highly recommended.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Wozzeck, Op. 7 by Alban Berg
Performer:  Mardi Byers (Soprano), Maksim Paster (Tenor), Roman Muravitsky (Tenor),
Piotr Migunov (Bass), Georg Nigl (Baritone)
Conductor:  Teodor Currentzis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra,  Bolshoi Theatre Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1917-1922; Austria 

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