Last weekend at Yerba Buena Center, the local, very ambitious chamber orchestra Ensemble Parallele presented a pair of performances of Alban Berg's forbidding, mostly atonal German opera "Wozzeck" in a new, reduced orchestration by John Rea.
The piece starts off grim with the lowly soldier title character being abused by every other character in the opera, and then proceeds to get even grimmer as his mistress Marie cuckolds him, which leads to a murder/suicide. The final scene has their orphaned bastard child playing on a hobbyhorse while being teased by children that "your mother is dead." Let's just say that the opera is not exactly my cup of tea, and when I watched it at the San Francisco Opera the last time it was performed a decade ago, the experience actually made me sick.
I ended up being sick again, though it had nothing to do with the opera, and everything to do with a cold virus. I picked up a pair of tickets from the great p.r. publicist Karen Ames (above right), went outside to wait for the performance and realized during a coughing jag that there was no way I was going to make it through an intermissionless ninety minutes, so I gave the great tickets to my opera supernumerary friends Michael Harvey and Charlie Lichtman (below).
Charlie reported back:
"The combination of John Rea’s re-orchestration, Matthew Antaky’s set design and lights, Austin Forbord’s multimedia, and a cornucopia of talented singers and musicians presented the audience with a demented world as seen through the eyes of the schizophrenic protagonist. The simulcast faces of the Captain (Scene 1) and the Doctor (Scene 4) were reminiscent of the German expressionist films of the 1920’s, and the ever-so-slightly out of sync projections added another layer of creepy madness.
Outstanding performances were rendered by bass-baritone Bojan Knezevic in the title role, tenor John Duykers as the Captain, and bass Philip Skinner as the Doctor. I couldn’t take my eyes off of any of them, and Scene 7 (where the Captain runs into the Doctor, then Wozzeck) was a high point in the opera. Stage Director Brian Staufenbiel moved the characters through the 15 scenes (and the 14 ‘en vista’ scene changes) smartly and effectively. Nichole Paiement’s deft conducting of the reduced orchestra, plus the talent of each musician, afforded a full-orchestra sound throughout the performance. This production of Wozzeck was one of those rare instances where all the elements of theater came together, the sum of which was a superlative opera experience."
Ensemble Parallele produced a fabulously interesting production of Lou Harrison's opera, "Young Caesar" at the same theatre three years ago, and seems to be on something of a roll. I can't wait to see what they do next. Whatever it is, I hope it once again includes the great character tenor John Duykers (above), the originator of the role of Chairman Mao in John Adams' opera, "Nixon in China." Duykers is one of the Bay Area's serious performing treasures.
The reaction across the local blogosphere to the "Wozzeck" production was essentially ecstatic with Axel Feldheim and The Opera Tattler (above) handing out raves. My favorite account of the performance was by Patrick Vaz who confesess to being "more of a Lulu guy," before gushing over the performance. His writing makes you feel like you were there.