An excellent Wozzeck at Barcelona’s Liceu

SpainSpain Alban Berg, Wozzeck: Soloists, Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu / Josep Pons (conductor). Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 2.6.2022. (JMI)

Matthias Goerne (Wozzeck) and Annemarie Kremmer (Marie) © A. Bofill

Director – William Kentridge
Sets – Sabine Theunissen
Costumes – Greta Goiris
Lighting – Urs Schönebaum

Wozzeck – Matthias Goerne
Marie – Annemarie Kremmer
Drum Major – Torsten Kerl
Captain – Mikeldi Atxalandabaso
Doctor – Peter Rose
Andres – Peter Tantsits
Margret – Rinat Shaham
First Apprentice – Scott Wilde
Second Apprentice – Äneas Humm
Madman – Beñat Egiarte

There is no doubt that Alban Berg is one of the most important composers of the twentieth century, but his works in general, and his operas in particular, are not very popular, as evidenced by the fact that theatre attendance leaves a lot to be desired, at least in Spain.

Berg’s Wozzeck has returned to the Liceu, ​​where it was last performed in January 2006. On that occasion, there was a new production by Calixto Bieito, in association with the Teatro Real (where it could be seen a year later), and featuring two casts. This time there is a single cast and a total of just six performances.

This current production is by William Kentridge and had its premiere at the 2017 Salzburg Festival. It has subsequently traveled to major opera houses around the world, and it struck me as attractive, original and convincing.

Liceu’s Wozzeck © A. Bofill

The action is brought up to more or less current times. There is no curtain and, upon entering the theatre, one sees the full stage. It holds a real amalgam of doors, corridors, chairs and other props, and you wonder how the action will unfold in all that chaos. The truth is that, thanks to some excellent projections and outstanding lighting work, it seems as if the sets are continuously changing. For my taste, the least successful parts are the tavern scene and the parade of the Drum Major, while Wozzeck’s scenes with the Captain are handled very well. The son of Marie and Wozzeck is a doll, which is curious.

The orchestra was led by Josep Pons, the current musical director of the Liceu; he also conducted the earlier production in 2006. Pons is, on the whole, better suited to twentieth-century operas than those of the nineteenth century, and his reading was satisfactory. Both the Liceu orchestra and the chorus did very well.

Wozzeck was sung by Matthias Goerne, one of the most important lieder singers today, and he was the great attraction in this cast. He gave a strong performance, but I must confess that I prefer to see him on stage in a recital than singing in an opera.

The role of Marie was played by soprano Annemarie Kremmer. She replaced mezzo-soprano Elena Zhidkova, whom I missed. Kremmer was correct in the part but didn’t go much beyond that, offering a voice of a certain quality but one with some tightness. The Drum Major was Torsten Kerl, who has been a Wagnerian tenor for years. In my opinion he is in decline, and neither vocally nor dramatically can his performance be highlighted.

Mikeldi Atxalandabaso as the Captain was stupendous, as always. His tenor voice works perfectly in every aspect, and it is difficult to find a more convincing interpreter of this character.

The veteran bass Peter Rose as the Doctor was correct, but had problems at both ends of the tessitura. In the secondary characters, tenor Peter Tantsits did well in the part of Andres, as did mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham as Margret. The two Apprentices, played by Scott Wilde and Äneas Humm, and Beñat Egiarte as the Fool were fine.

The Liceu audience filled perhaps 60% of the theatre.

José M. Irurzun

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