Waltraud Meier

Wozzeck at the Met

Met-wozzeck The Unbiased Opinionator's account of the last performance of Wozzeck this season at the Metropolitan Opera.

* Notes * 
The musical and emotional journey that is Wozzeck is not an easy one. The score bears much study before an uninitiated listener can appreciate the dramatic richness and supreme formal architecture of Berg's creation. Nonetheless, James Levine's organic mastery of the score, combined with a very strong cast, resulted in a memorable afternoon.

The opera, written in three acts, was presented without intermission. Brief pauses were built in for audiences members to stretch, chat, or check their e-mail. The decision to present the work without intermission was a wise one. To allow the audience to trickle out, have a glass of champagne or cup of coffee, and then attempt to refocus after an ordinary intermission would have dispersed the dramatic energy of the performance.

The epicenter of this performance was James Levine, who was greeted with a storm of applause as he slowly made his way to the podium. One never had the sense of a conductor being a mere rhythmic traffic cop. Levine presented the work as one uninterrupted field of energy. His body language alone seemed to inspire the orchestra and cast with its great economy of movement.

This unrelentingly dark tale, rendered into play by Georg Buechner, was derived from a true story. Woyzeck, a proletarian ex-soldier, is helplessly caught, along with his mistress Marie and their son, in a spider's web of degradation, poverty, and subjugation to crushing forces beyond his control. The real-life Woyzeck was convicted and executed for the murder of his mistress in 1821.

Robert Israel's set was a claustrophobic, darkly-lit alien landscape of matte grey columns, trusses, and foreshortened geometric surfaces. This provided a framework for the characters, who were dressed in period clothing representative of some indeterminate, pre-World War I Central Europe. The dramatic figures were lit in such a way that their shadows were projected at surreal angles onto the set as they interacted.

Alan Held played Wozzeck, not as a beaten-down underling, but as a human being seething with anger and frustration. Even his initial monotonic "Ja Wohl, Herr Hauptmann" had a certain menace which foreshadowed his later descent into animal rage and homicide. Singing with great intensity and impressive vocal quality, he was not afraid to push his vocal delivery to the breaking point. The result, particularly during his panic-ridden hallucinations in Act I, was overwhelming in its impact.

Waltraud Meier had the dramatic capacity to present Marie in all her guises: the despairing mother; lustful, wanton sexual object of the Drum-Major (strongly sung by Stuart Skelton); and the caged creature who causes her own murder by rebuffing Wozzeck with the line "better a knife in the belly than your hands on me." Her dramatic portrayal was chillingly uncompromising.

The doctor (Walter Fink), and the Captain (Gerhard Siegel) played their roles with malignant, detached sadism. Both succeeded in projecting their wordy lines cleanly and clearly into the hall.

The backdrop to the murder of Marie by Wozzeck in the final Act was a huge, bloodshot moon, with pockmarked striations reminiscent of a human retina. The abstract pond in which Wozzeck drowns was a one-dimensional, rust colored band across the back of the stage. The resulting visual effect underlined the deep nihilism of the drama. After the thunderous ovation died down at the conclusion of the afternoon, one emerged into a the privileged, well-fed City, haunted with the knowledge that there are still Wozzecks everywhere in this world.

* Tattling * 
UO had the great pleasure of greeting Marilyn Horne backstage after the performance. Horne was acclaimed for her performances of Marie in 1960, for the dedication of the new opera house in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, and in her US Debut in San Francisco in 1964.

Staatsoper Unter den Linden's 2008-2009 Season

August 16-17 2008: Medea
August 30- September 18 2008: Fidelio
September 5-19 2008: The Gambler
September 7-21 2008: Tristan und Isolde
September 16 2008- February 20 2009: Il barbiere di Siviglia
September 27- October 25 2008: Eugene Onegin
October 3 2008- January 25 2009: Tosca
October 7- December 4 2008: La Traviata
October 31- November 4 2008: Dido & Aeneas
November 7- December 11 2008: Così fan tutte
November 16 2008- July 4 2009: Hölderlin
November 20- December 21 2008: L'Italiana in Algeri
December 10 2008- February 14 2009: Turandot
December 19 2008- July 6 2009: Die Zauberflöte
January 10-30 2009: Carmen
January 16-20 2009: Phaedra
February 15-28 2009: Faust
February 21- March 7 2009: Der Rosenkavalier
March 6-9 2009: Parsifal
March 15-31 2009: Don Giovanni
April 8-12 2009: Lohengrin
April 15-24 2009: Macbeth
March 14- April 2 2009: Aida
May 8-17 2009: Orlando Paladino
May 22-June 6 2009: Un ballo in maschera
May 25- June 2 2009: Elektra
June 7-29 2009: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
June 12-19 2009: Salome

René Pape sings Gremin in Eugene Onegin, Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, in Méphistophélès in Faust, Gurnemanz in Parsifal, and Heinrich der Vogler in Lohengrin. Waltraud Meier sings Leonore in the first performances of Fidelio and returns for Kundry in Parsifal. Lawrence Brownlee sings Count Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia. Gustavo Dudamel conducts Don Giovanni. Haydn's Orlando Paladino replaces the Armida that was to be directed by Peter Mussbach.

2008-2009 Season | Official Site

Paris Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 6-11 2008: Eugene Onegin
September 24- November 2 2008: Rigoletto
October 11- November 2 2008: The Bartered Bride
October 13- November 12 2008: Cunning Little Vixen
October 30- December 3 2008: Tristan und Isolde
November 17- December 23 2008: Die Zauberflöte
November 25- December 21 2008: Fidelio
January 17-30 2009: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
January 24- February 8 2009: Yvonne, princesse de Bourgogne
January 29- March 4 2009: Madama Butterfly
February 27- March 22 2009: Idomeneo
February 28- March 26 2009: Werther
April 4- May 8 2009: Macbeth
April 10- May 23 2009: Un ballo in maschera
May 4-18 2009: The Makropulos Affair
May 20- June 5 2009: Tosca
June 13-21 2009: Demofoonte
June 18- July 2009: King Roger

Riccardo Muti conducts Demofoonte. Waltraud Meier sings Isolde opposite of Clifton Forbis. Paul Groves sings the title role of Idomeneo, with Joyce DiDonato as Idamante and Camilla Tilling as Ilia. Rolando Villazon shares the role of Werther with Marcus Haddock. Deborah Voigt shares the role of Amelia with Angela Brown and Ulrica Elena Manistina.

2008-2009 Schedule | Official Site

Hojotoho! Heiahaha!

Aldenwalkuere1David Alden's new production of Die Walküre premiered yesterday afternoon at the Bavarian State Opera. Musically, the performance was excellent, Zubin Mehta conducted well, as usual, and the singing was good. Tenor Peter Seiffert and soprano Waltraud Meier were outstanding as the Wälsungen, so the first act was stunning. Bass-baritone John Tomlinson was once again impressive as Wotan, his voice is powerful, warm, and beautiful. Significantly less affecting was soprano Gabriele Schnaut as Brünnhilde, she seemed to have difficulty singing while doing the choreography. Her voice, though sufficiently loud, had a little catch to it, and at times it sounded like it could shatter at any moment.

The production seemed to have a few major themes, these being: throwing objects or humans whenever possible, walls with strange magnetic properties that attract human bodies, inappropriate response to stimuli, domestic violence, and war. Act I starts us off in a room down stage, the floor is linoleum tile, the walls are flowered wallpaper, there is a hot pink refrigerator in the stage left corner, the rest of the furniture includes vinyl covered metal chairs and a kitchen table. Sieglinde, dressed as a house wife circa 1940, is sitting on a chair in the center. Siegmund enters from the left, wearing a black leather trench-coat. Sieglinde brings him water and mead from the lovely pink fridge, which of course, makes the audience titter. Hunding comes in and turns on the lights, including a kitschy illuminated depiction of a watery paradise. The act more or less precedes in this manner, the outside is revealed by the wall itself crumbling so that there is a human sized hole in it. The Wälsungen run off together, the wall gives way and swings open, Siegmund picks Sieglinde up and pushes her against the wall as they precede to maniacally dry hump each other. Lovely. This is followed by a 50 minute intermission as they set up for the next act.

Act II uses the same walls stripped of their wallpaper. Brünnhilde is dressed as Der Blaue Engel era Dietrich, and has a whip. She is standing at the top of the wall, as a bunch of soldier corpses move synchronically to her whip cracking. To her left is an oversized model of a camouflage-painted war plane. Eventually she comes down to earth where Wotan is, and this is when it starts to get actually bad. Brünnhilde does absurd movements with her top hat as a prop to the music. It is as if she has either Tourette's syndrome or Huntington's Disease, although the movements are timed to the music, they do not make any sense with them. Utter mockery. Her horse is a metal desk which is pushed about by a dark winged figure. Fricka is a well-dressed lady with a grey fox over one shoulder. She, of course, hurls it at the ground, along with her purse, as she tries to convince Wotan to let her punish Siegmund. There is wrestling and rolling on the ground between the two. When the scene finally changes Siegmund and Sieglinde gingerly move across something meant to look like a dilapidated several-story apartment complex, complete with an abandoned blue tiled bathroom and sorry-looking toilet. Sieglinde carefully collapses against the wall, again, and the scenery moves all about. Brünnhilde appears and heroes wearing gas masks come out bringing black leather armchairs which they sit in as they read newspapers. At some point they lean over the chairs and make suggestive hip thrusts for no apparent reason. Hunding, Wotan, and Fricka appear, Siegmund is killed, Brünnhilde defiantly strips herself of coat, hat, and gloves and sits in a chair facing her father. Hunding is killed, Wotan threatens Brünnhilde from his armchair across from her, the act ends, there is a significant amount of booing from the audience. I was shocked, since the audience is usually extremely excited about applauding. But when the singers came out, they were applauded as usual. This is followed by an hour long intermission as they set up for the final act. During the intermission, I gather that the audience did not mind first act's staging, but the second act was too much.

Act III has a huge fan suspended from above, which rotates throughout the rest of the performance. There are the walls again, some of the Walküren are up on top of the wall, some are below in an office area with many metal desks. They are dressed as soldiers, in gray wool with little gray hats. They have air traffic controller torches and at some point they use them to tell the audience, or perhaps Wagner, to fuck off. Then they take out white vinyl aprons with red crosses emblazoned on them and nurse hats, they change into red pumps. For the rest of the act they will dance about in a flippant and inappropriate manner. The war plane from Act II flies down to earth, and Wotan appears, filled with wrath. Brünnhilde is punished, and Wotan conjures up fire, which appears in the guise of a man in a fire proof suit, set afire. The dark winged figure rolls Brünnhilde away on a metal desk. The music ends and it is completely silent for a whole 30 seconds before a chorus of booing commences. The singers come out, and there is applause, the conductor comes out, the whole orchestra appears on stage, and the applause is thunderous. As soon as David Alden and his ilk come out, there is loud booing, countered with some polite applause and a group of 2 or 3 folks screaming "Bravo" over and over. The people on stage just continue bowing, flowers are brought out for the female singers.

The audience was more well-behaved than usual, there was less chatter. But, naturally, a cell-phone rang, though quite far from me.