’Tis the season to be Wozzecked.
On Thursday the Met will revive its darkly poetic staging of Alban Berg’s decadent masterpiece with the central roles cast against type. Thomas Hampson, a thinking-person’s baritone, portrays the titular lug for the first time, while the usually sunny soprano Deborah Voigt impersonates his shady love, Marie. James Levine, a fine old hand at this bracing challenge, conducts. One hopes it will be good.
It will have to be very good to equal, much less surpass, the concert performance by the Vienna State Opera and Vienna Philharmonic that roused Carnegie Hall last Friday.
Daniele Gatti, who had been scheduled to conduct, withdrew citing “acute inflammation of the tendons in both shoulders”. In his place came none less than Franz Welser-Möst, chief maestro of the vaunted institutions on duty. An impeccably balanced ensemble, headed by the masterly Matthias Goerne as Wozzeck, managed to reinforce expressive intensity at every jagged turn without diminishing, or distorting, sonic allure.
The interpretative revelations began with the great orchestra (still virtually an all-men’s club, alas). It played the essentially atonal score with abrasive accuracy without allowing Berg’s harsh edges to preclude lush textures, fine instrumental nuances or, surprisingly, an underlying aura of warmth. Symphonic hysteria, splashed on a vast dynamic scale, was meticulously gauged, and all the more affecting as a result.
Unlike many predecessors confronting Berg’s epochal demands for Sprechgesang, the Vienna cast never permitted sprechen to overwhelm singen. Stationed high on side platforms, everyone conveyed the prescribed otherworldly misery essentially without movement. Voices, faces and a few gestures did the acting.
Goerne offered an intensely compelling delineation of Wozzeck’s haunted agonies. Evelyn Herlitzius, his hypnotic Marie, exuded enough soprano passion to make some shrill tone irrelevant. Herwig Pecoraro whined magnetically in the tenoral flights of the deranged Captain, deftly partnered by Wolfgang Bankl as the basso-compulsive Doctor. Thomas Ebenstein wailed sympathetically as Andres, and if Herbert Lippert lacked maximum macho-bravado as the Drum Major, it mattered little in context. This was a unique night for poignant, intelligent, theatrical music-making.