By Andrew L. Pincus, Eagle correspondent
LENOX — Alban Berg’s battle opera “Wozzeck” got here alongside this month simply at a time when males in Washington have been performing as if battle have been nothing extra consequential than opera.
“Wozzeck” will not be explicitly antiwar like Britten’s “Conflict Requiem,” the 20th century’s different musical monument to the senselessness of slaughter within the identify of nationwide glory. The place “Conflict Requiem” pits armies in opposition to each other, “Wozzeck” lets the degradation and dying of a single lowly soldier converse for all. The 2 works prime an extended checklist of musical compositions that grapple with points posed by battle.
“My topic is Conflict, and the pity of Conflict. / The poetry is within the pity,” Britten inscribes his work. “All a poet can do immediately is warn.”
The strains are by English poet Wilfrid Owen, who died in battle within the final days of World Conflict I. They might stand equally for “Wozzeck,” the grim reflection of a composer who served within the Austro-Hungarian military throughout that battle. Britten units battle poems by Owen in clashing juxtaposition in opposition to Roman Catholic Requiem liturgy. Berg based mostly “Wozzeck” on an unfinished play by Georg Buchner.
The musical kinds are in contrast to: Britten’s primarily tonal, Berg’s combined however usually atonal. The message is identical: sorrow and compassion. Pity is not only for the useless, however within the piteous waste of life. Towards forces arrayed by nations, all a poet can do — or, for that matter, all an bizarre citizen can do — is warn.
The paradox is that the folks most in want of listening to antiwar messages in music, or encountering them in theater, artwork and literature, are the folks least prone to heed and even perceive them.
The Metropolitan Opera’s new “Wozzeck” manufacturing, seen within the Berkshires within the Met’s HD sequence, arrived amid america’ rising army involvement within the Center East. The manufacturing appeared at battle with the music.
“Wozzeck” tells the story of a typical soldier who suffers the betrayals of his lover, Marie; the boasts of the drum main who seduces her; and the mockery and medical experiments of a sadistic physician and captain. Underneath a blood-red moon, Wozzeck winds up murdering Marie and drowning within the lake the place he threw her physique.
Performed by Yannick N zet-S guin with the Met orchestra and a potent forged headed by Peter Mattei as Wozzeck and Elza van den Heever as Marie, the efficiency made good on the music’s promise. Mattei introduced out Wozzeck’s more and more confused, even dazed state, and van den Heever was ambivalent in her ardour for the pompous drum main. However it’s the orchestra that carries the story right here, and the Met gamers, if a bit restrained, delivered the message with readability and drive.
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The shock was undercut by William Kentridge’s course and procession of grisly black and white projections of battle scenes (he additionally did the projections for the Met’s “Lulu” and “The Nostril”). The interval was moved up from Berg’s early 19th century to World Conflict I. As a substitute of Berg’s garrison-town setting, the projections had corpselike faces and our bodies rising out and in of grotesquely distorted battlefield wreckage; maps of battle strains positioned the motion in Flanders. Most pointedly horrific of all, Wozzeck and Marie’s illegitimate son appeared as a disfigured wood puppet in a gasoline masks.
We get it. It was pounded into us. Conflict is horrible. All of the busy stuff within the background, together with slender, crooked ramps that the singers dangerously needed to navigate, have been a distraction from Berg’s music. Usually within the tragic remaining scene, the kid innocently hops about on his hobbyhorse whereas different kids taunt him that his mom is useless. Right here, the gas-masked dummy blindly stumbled alongside, aided by medics. Duh. The ending fizzled out.
If battle is a waste, so is extra expertise.
Tanks churning over snow-covered steppes throughout Shostakovich’s grinding, groaning Seventh Symphony? Egyptian and Ethiopian armies combating it out within the desert throughout “Aida”? Musket-equipped Albanians marching out of step throughout “Cosi fan tutte”? A bugler sounding alarms of battle through the closing plea for peace in Beethoven’s Missa solemnis?
In The New Yorker, critic Alex Ross astutely identified the final word loss from Kentridge’s “sensible however someway hole” staging. As composed, Ross wrote, the opera charts Wozzeck’s descent into madness amid his torments. Regardless of the singers’ and orchestra’s normal excellence, the busy-work imagery subverted the psychological drama.
This is an thought. Let’s sit the world’s leaders within the Met and make them watch a efficiency of “Wozzeck.” Let’s even give them projections to make sure they get the purpose. Given their proclivities, which might they select, peace or battle?
We all know the reply all too effectively.
We all know the reply all too effectively.
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