Monday, December 30, 2019

William Kentridge's Wozzeck at the Met

photograph by Francis Levy
William Kentridge’s design for his production of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck at the Met is a true Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk
Composed of celluloid projections, animations and an expressionist jagged edged eviscerated home extending into tromp l’oeil illusion, it's also a metaphor for the mind of the famously unhinged protagonist. But Georg Buchner’s play upon which the opera is based has always been ambivalent. Though based on a real historical personage, a student who murdered the woman he lived with who was the mother of his child, before drowning himself, the central character has been glommed onto by generations of modernists, who regard the play as an ur-text of counter romanticism (it's hard to believe that Goethe and Buchner inhabited the same universe). However, it’s unclear whether Wozzeck is an almost biblical representation of man’s inner loneliness or perhaps an indictment of the authoritarian society out of which the real Wozzeck emerged. Interestingly Buchner and Rimbaud, who both examined a similar darkness had abbreviated lives. The opening night’s performance was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation, but the Captain (Gerhard Siegel), Wozzeck (Peter Mattei), the mother, Marie (Eliza van den Heever) and the Drum-Major (Christopher Ventris) all could be seen as stock characters from some perverse commedia dell'arte gone awry—which is to say that for all their existential import they may be viewed as extremely thin and even one-dimensional. If you venture over to Lincoln Center to see Kentridge's Wozzeck, you may feel you have to whisper sentiments like these under your breath, considering the veneration accorded both the play and the opera and the important place both occupy in the canon of modern theater.

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