WOZZECK: AN ATONAL OPERA
Wozzeck is a relatively modern opera composed by Alban Berg between 1914 and 1922. It was premiered in 1925 at the Berlin State Opera.
The Austrian composer Berg based the opera on the play called Woyzeck written by Georg Buchner. This play was incomplete when Buchner died and Berg rearranged extracts from it to create an opera of 15 scenes set within 3 acts. The subject matter is harsh, handling the hardship and exploitation of the poor. The composition of the opera took so long as Berg was fighting for Germany in the First World War. It was performed regularly until the Nazis decided it was 'decadent art' and banned its performance. Berg's opera was first staged in Britain at the Royal Opera House in 1952.
It is the first and most famous opera to employ atonality as a music structure. The lack of key and atonal music gives a sense of madness and starkness to the production.
The story of the opera revolves around the central character and his common law wife, Marie. Tired of living in poverty she succumbs to the advances of a passing soldier. He discovers their affair and vows revenge upon them. Despite Marie realising her mistake and asking for forgiveness, he kills her in a fit of anger, leaving her body to be discovered by her son and the other village children.
The opera opens in the Captain's suite where he is being shaved by Wozzeck. The Captain berates him for leading an immoral life and for having an illegitimate child and he responds that poverty makes morality difficult. Later he and his friend Andres are collecting firewood at sunset when they are overcome by frightening visions. A military parade passes the window of Marie, his common law wife. He tells her of his visions and leaves without seeing their son which upsets and angers her. The Doctor who has been treating him, scolds him for not following his instructions but feels his 'experiment' has succeeded when he hears of the visions. The act ends with Marie admiring the drum-major and succumbing to his advances.
Act 2 opens with Marie and her son preparing for bed; she is admiring the earrings which the drum-major has given her and tells her common law husband that she has found them. Not sure whether to believe her or not he gives her some money and departs, leaving Marie feeling guilty. Together Doctor and the Captain tell Wozzeck that Marie is being unfaithful to him. He confronts Marie and goes to hit her but she stops him by saying that even her father never hit her. Another way of getting his revenge comes to him. The act ends with Marie dancing with the drum-major and the drum-major trying to fight her husband.
Marie has become distraught and guilty and wants to seek forgiveness so she walks in the woods with her husband. However, in a fit of anger he decides that if he can't have her, no one will and he stabs her. Later he tries to dance with their neighbour Margaret but seeing blood on his hands makes him realise what he has done. Under a blood red moon he wades into a lake and drowns. The following morning the opera ends when children, including Marie's son, find her body.
Wozzeck: aide to the Captain, common law husband to Marie (baritone).
Marie: his common law wife (soprano).
Captain: (buffo tenor).
Doctor: (buffo bass).
Drum-major: Marie's lover (tenor).
Andres: their friend (lyric tenor).
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