Wozzeck at Chicago Lyric Opera Review – A New, Extremely Powerful Production

Lyric Opera of Chicago presents Alban Berg’s Wozzeck in a new production that opened on Sunday, November 1 with five remaining performances through Saturday, November 21. Performance dates are November 1 at 2pm, and November 4, 7, 12, 16, 21 at 7:30pm.  With so few performances you won’t want to let this rare opportunity slip away.  My short, informal survey of attendees including my seatmate, Karen, one woman near the ladies' room and two ladies on the train, all said they were blown away by this production.  Each one said it would be a shame to miss this production.


Gerhard Siegel, Tomasz Konieczny, Photo: Cory Weaver

True, the opera is intense and deals with difficult subject matter and music some people expect to have difficulty with.  However, everyone I spoke with felt the music was so in keeping with the subject matter that it heightened emotion. Two comments from the Lyric Opera of Chicago program were so “right on”, that I want to share them.  In one article, “Wozzeck in the Here and Now” by Gavin Plumley I liked the statement, “The often highly dissonant idiom of Wozzeck is what many have found most daunting when approaching the opera, though the transitions between its tonal and atonal music are entirely rational”.  And, in the “Director’s Note” in “A Conversation with Sir David McVicar”, Sir David noted that, “It is a universal story – the story of the eternal underdog. This opera screams for compassion – not simply an emotional compassion, but a civic compassion.”


Billy Dawson, Tomasz Konieczny, David Lintzenich, Photo: Cory Weaver

Entering the absolutely packed Civic Opera House Lobby, a man standing in front of me asked how the pre-opera talk works. I explained that he can take any seat for the talk but then he goes to his assigned seat. He told me he had seen the opera performed in Berlin many years ago and has been waiting to see it offered here ever since.  My husband and I were surprised to see the auditorium nearly filled for the talk. Nicholas Ivor Martin Director of Operations and Special Initiatives shared wonderful insights and snippets of the music from the opera.  The talk was informative and amusing.  He noted that in the 1500s Giovanni Gabrieli gave no instructions about how his works were to be performed which contrasted to Alban Berg who accompanied his works with complete detail even including a pre-show talk.  He pointed out that Berg, following in the footsteps of his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg,  grappled with how he could tell a story in a new musical language and not loose his audience.  The basic theme of Wozzeck, the dehumanizing impact of poverty, appealed to audiences in his time and the opera was very popular. Berg decided that he had to set this story to music after he saw Buchner’s play Woyzeck in 1914.


Angela Denoke, Photo: Cory Weaver

This Lyric production is outstanding in many ways.  The casting was perfect.  The voices and acting carried out the story’s drama, poignancy and tragedy.  The costuming, staging and sets moved the 15 scenes along smoothly and meaningfully.  The debut performers strengthened the production. This sad story of a very poor man who is a soldier and obtains extra money for his lover and his child by subjecting himself to medical experiments, who is treated badly by his fellow soldiers moves to intense drama when he learns his lover has been unfaithful.  Ultimately, perhaps in a trance, he stabs her and drowns himself (unintentionally) when he throws the knife, the murder weapon into the water and tries to move it out of sight. We see Wozzeck and Marie's son left alone and while this bring tears to some, one wonders will his fate be that of his father.


Brindley Sherratt, Billy Dawson, Tomasz, David Lintzenich, Photo: Cory Weaver


David Portillo, Photo: Andrew Cloffi

Tomasz Konieczny (debut) is the downtrodden soldier, the opera’s title character. Angela Denoke (debut) is Marie, with whom Wozzeck has a child out of wedlock. Gerhard Siegel (debut) is the Captain, Stefan Vinke (debut) is the Drum Major whose affair with Marie drives Wozzeck to murderous madness, Brindley Sherratt portrays the Doctor who pays Wozzeck to submit to bizarre medical experiments. David Portillo is Andres, a fellow soldier, and Jill Grove is Margret, Marie’s neighbor. Vicki Mortimer designed sets and costumes for the new production, with lighting design by Paule Constable. Michael Black is chorus master and Andrew George is choreographer. Members of the Chicago Children’s Choir add a short, poignant touch.


Angela Denoke, Zachary Uzarraga, Photo: Cory Weaver


Stefan Vinke, Tomasz Konieczny, Photo: Andrew Cloffi

Wozzeck is performed in German with projected English translations. The performance lasts 100 minutes without intermission.


Gerhard Siegel, Photo: Cory Weaver

More Lyric Opera of Chicago Information.


Photos: Courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago

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