At the beginning of last year, I wrote a review for Paris Update of a production of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck at the Opéra Bastille in which I deplored the staging but praised the musical quality. Now the production is back in the same house, but with a different musical team. It seemed like an interesting idea to see whether it had evolved in a positive way and whether it could be recommended to the opera-going readers of Paris Update.
Strangely enough, the production, set in a canteen at a sports complex, seems more palatable this time around, but that may be due to the fact that I came to it knowing what to expect rather than to any improvements in the staging.
As good as the individual performances were in the first production, the casting of French baritone Vincent Le Texier in the title role and the great Wagnerian soprano Waltraud Meier as Marie probably contributes most to the success of this restaging. Le Texier manages to dominate the overly cluttered stage more completely than the vocally brilliant but physically slight Simon Keenlyside in the last production. And Meier is incandescent, even with the occasional strain showing in the top notes of her vocally demanding part.
Fundamental problems with the staging still remain. The opera cannot work effectively in a modern setting, simply because the stigma attached to having a baby out of wedlock no longer exists in the contemporary urban world. At the beginning of the opera, the Captain informs us that Wozzeck is a good man but has no morals, solely because he has fathered Marie’s child. Moreover, the biblical language used by both Wozzeck and Marie has no effect when placed amongst children playing on bouncy castles (as is the case in this production). Yet, Hartmut Haenchen’s superb musical direction of the orchestra and chorus of the Opéra National de Paris makes it worth catching one of the few performances of this run. The orchestral epilogue, coupled with Marie and Wozzeck’s son’s “Hopp, Hopp!” at the end of the opera, is as devastating as I have ever heard it performed.