Barbara and I saw *Wozzeck* at the Met on 1/22/20. I love this opera, it's a masterpiece by Alban Berg from 1925 about a soldier going through all kinds of horrible experiences in the 1820s (the Met production moved it up to the 1910s). The music is atonal with powerful, shocking moments of tonality - - sort of the flip side of Strauss, whose music was usually tonal with powerful, shocking moments of atonality.
This was one of the operas I was most looking forward to this season, because I love the opera so much and also the baritone who was playing Wozzeck, Peter Mattei. He's just plain dreamy, he has such a lovely voice and is such an extraordinary singer. As an added bonus, Elza van Heever was playing Marie, his partner. I heard her as Elizabeth I in *Maria Stuarda* a few years ago, she knocked me out in that show and I was looking forward to hearing what she would do with this ultra-modern role.
I arrived at the theater with more than a little trepidation, because of the production by director and designer William Kentridge. I had seen his previous two Met productions - - I wasn't wild for *The Nose* but enjoyed it, and I HATED *Lulu,* it really infuriated me. *Wozzeck* had the same problem as *Lulu,* which is just plain too much going on, what I call "too much light makes the baby go blind." He uses a lot of film and video projections, there's always something sort of manic and jittery happening onstage, and I get exhausted by that after about ten minutes. Needless to say, the Met doesn't do any ten-minute operas, so this is a problem.
But the musical component of the performance was fantastic. Mattei, as expected, was extraordinary. This role is usually played by a more forceful singer, a burly baritone as opposed to an elegant baritone. Mattei's vocal elegance made Wozzeck more vulnerable, and therefore more heartbreaking. Van Heever was another case of elegance over force - - all of that bel canto in her repertoire has served her well in this role, her singing was wonderfully supple.
The star of any performance of *Wozzeck* is usually the orchestra, and the Met orchestra certainly knows their way around this thorny score. Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin brought out a more buoyant sound than I'm used to in this music, it was a welcome change. The last time I heard it we had James Levine in the pit, who adores this opera, and his version was much heavier and more brooding. Nézet-Séguin certainly didn't soft-pedal on the drama, but there was more light peeking through than with Levine.
Here's a clip from an orchestra rehearsal: