BWW Reviews: WOZZECK Redux - Levine and the Met Orchestra Show Vienna Who's Boss

BWW Reviews: WOZZECK Redux - Levine and the Met Orchestra Show Vienna Who's Boss

When the Vienna State Opera visited New York at the end of February, it brought Alban Berg's WOZZECK to Carnegie Hall as part of the "Vienna: City of Dreams" festivities. With the big sound of the Vienna Philharmonic central to the concert performance, it set out to show what a quintessentially Viennese opera sounded like played by the hometown band. Sorry, boys [and it's still mainly a male bastion], but the Met Orchestra, conducted by James Levine, could show you a thing or two.

The Met's performance of WOZZECK was, in a word, astonishing. Here are others: Energetic. Riveting. Breathtaking. And, ultimately, moving. Levine, who is quite vocal about the esteem in which he holds the Berg opera, found colors and urgency in it that showed clearly he has it under his skin. Plumbing the depths of this challenging score, the Met orchestra under its great maestro outdid its usual high standards in a gut-wrenching performance. This beautiful atonal music--no, that is not an oxymoron--is clearly the most intense hour and forty minutes in the company's repertoire; still, it left us wanting more. Indeed, the performance was enough to make a believer out of anyone skeptical about the power of the score.

Unfortunately, the Met ran into problems with the revival of its riveting Mark Lamos production, due to the bronchitis of baritone Thomas Hampson, who was to make his role debut as Wozzeck. Hampson not only missed the opening--luckily, the Met was able to draft Matthew Goerne who was brilliant in the Vienna performance--but his lingering illness continued to plague the production, at least through the performance I attended on March 17. (The final WOZZECK of the season will be broadcast live on radio on Saturday afternoon, the 22nd, at 1 pm, EDT.) Cast against type--think of him as Don Giovanni or Hamlet or Iago--Hampson clearly understood this wreck of a man, a sad sack without a bit of happiness in his life. But Hampson's voice sounded impaired and his energy waned by the end. He definitely needs another shot at this role.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.

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