Philharmonia/Salonen: Wozzeck Concert Performance

By Anderson, Colin | Musical Opinion, November/December 2009 | Go to article overview

Philharmonia/Salonen: Wozzeck Concert Performance


Anderson, Colin, Musical Opinion


It has been a good year in London for Alban Berg's two operas. In June, the Royal Opera had a run of Lulu, directed by Christof Loy, conducted by Antonio Pappano, and with Agneta Eichenholz in the title-role. The production, if not the music-making, divided opinion, some disappointed by the lack action and colour, but Loy's minimalist, blackand-white staging seemed to work when set against the complexity of the music; and Eichenholz was a real discovery. I went twice, and the final performance was extraordinary.

To close its series, City of Dreams Vienna 1900-1935, the Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa- Pekka Salonen gave a concert if semi-staged performance Berg's previous opera, Wozzeck, at the Royal Festival Hall on October 8. There was some movement and character interaction, Wozzeck was in army uniform, and the Doctor had a stethoscope! Surtitles were provided, but in order to read them one could not avoid the distracting and progressively more irritating big-screen presentation of the live video aspect of the performance devised by Jean-Baptiste Barrière; this was an add-on for us to experience the other characters from Wozzeck's standpoint. Through vivid colours and distorted images it became tedious and predictable, and only came into its own with the image of the red moon that so affects Wozzeck.

Best to let the music tell the story. And this was very well done; Salonen clarified the complexity of the score, seeing the three acts whole and in relation to Berg's rigorous organisation. What also disconcerted was that the orchestra seemed a little glossy, which may have been a consequence of the sound bouncing off the screen or being caught in the amplification, itself a surprise. Anna Burford (as Margret) was certainly amplified (for dialogue purposes) and Katarina Dalayman (a very experienced Marie) wore a head microphone (which may have been a requirement for the BBC Radio 3 recording, but none of the other soloists seemed to have one); she was though somewhat backward in the balance, so if she was supposed to be amplified, the process went wrong, but the whole idea goes against anything Berg would have required and what we would expect from an opera singer. …

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