Wozzeck, Royal Opera House, London
The Royal Opera's searing new production of Berg's Wozzeck may not be comfortable to watch, but it will stay with you, writes Edward Seckerson
Friday 18 October 2002
Top-price tickets for the Royal Opera's new Wozzeck are available for less than it costs to see the Queen musical We Will Rock You. Except that Keith Warner's searing production of Alban Berg's masterpiece really will rock you. So before you read another word, get those tickets sorted. What you see may not be easy to watch, and what you hear will only intensify what you see – but the experience will stay with you; and that's a promise.
There's a child on stage when we enter the auditorium – a tiny child sitting at a table looking toward a stage-filling anatomy chart of the human brain. This is the illegitimate child of Wozzeck and Marie, and what he sees can never be forgotten. "Shut your eyes", says Marie, repeatedly, "or the Sandman will make you blind." But the child will see and the child will hear everything. His parents' nightmare is his nightmare. His immunity to cruelty, to man's inhumanity to man, begins here.
Wozzeck is one of society's have-nots. A victim, a guinea pig, a scapegoat, a poor man with vision. He is truly fortune's fool and, as we hurtle towards the inevitable climax of the drama, Warner has the character of the "half-wit" sidle up to him in an ape's mask as if pointedly to remind us of our common evolution. The half-wit and Wozzeck have much in common. They are wise fools, both. Society may have deemed them dispensable, useful only as "case studies", laboratory rats. But they see and hear with a terrible clarity.
And so Stefanos Lazaridis's soiled white-tile set is the laboratory, the asylum, the hospital, the morgue of our darkest fears. And the darkest corner of it – literally – is forever Wozzeck's. But the door to this private world is an open door. Wozzeck has been violated. And perhaps the most remarkable feature of Warner's staging is the way in which he has represented both the lucidity and the crazed implausibility of the narrative on stage. The filmic intercutting of scenes is achieved by abandoning logic and suspending time and place – you never really know where you are; a huge mirror acts as a window on to the world as Wozzeck sees it – a topsy-turvy world in which we might see an aerial shot of Marie wandering between soldiers' beds in the barracks like a kind of predatory Florence Nightingale. Rick Fisher's startling, unforgiving lighting throws all manner of Fritz Langian shadows.
Such visions superbly complement the haunting, haunted nature of Berg's score, but also its savage beauty, as in the moment where Marie's lust for the Drum Major (Kim Begley) climaxes in an act of brutal buggery that is horribly in concord with the dissonant ecstasy of the music. The score has been wonderfully prepared by Antonio Pappano and the Royal Opera Orchestra, who reveal it in all its phantasmagorical detail. Pappano gives it a line, a consonance, that is so often obscured. A myriad of melodies emerge from hiding, you hear fragments of them finding form and shape, like the premonitions of that heart-rending D minor interlude to the final scene.
And speech, too, evolves into song in a way that you can only imagine Berg himself heard it: the hysterics, the Captain (Graham Clark) and the Doctor (Eric Halfvarson), distorting every utterance like the oral equivalent of grotesque caricature drawings; Marie (Katarina Dalayman) reaching way above the stave for that elusive state of grace she will never achieve.
Matthias Goerne bringing a great lieder-singer's sense of nuance and inwardness to the title role – an extraordinarily complete and courageous performance through which we reluctantly identify with the awful truth of his seemingly incoherent ravings. His final reduction to the level of a human laboratory specimen is a little touch of theatrical genius. Go.
To 26 October, Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000)
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rowan Atkinson to sell £10 million McLaren 'supercar' he crashed into a tree and a lamppost
- 2 The truth about 'girl things': Three cheers for Heather Watson's honesty
- 3 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 Men behaving badly: Urinating while standing, 'manspreading' and the gendering of selfishness
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors: 'I think as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult in the UK'
Pixie Geldof signs recording deal with Stranger Records
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
British Muslim leaders outraged after Eric Pickles says followers of Islam should 'prove their identity'
UK terror fears: My jihadist son returned from Syria mentally scarred – now he is being ignored
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
Billy Crystal: 'Stop shoving gay sex scenes in my face'
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners