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Wozzeck

Alban Berg 1885-1935

Opera in three acts
Libretto by the composer
World premiere December 14 1925, Staatstheater Unten den Linden, Berlin
1st performance of this production June 26 2016

With German and English surtitles.  ca. 1hr 40mins, with no interval
Introductory talk, in German, in the Holzfoyer half and hour before performances begin

Wozzeck suffers from delusional anxiety. Unable to work full time, he earns what he can by doing odd jobs to support himself and Marie, the mother of his child. Every day he shaves the captain of the army, in which he used to serve; helps his comrade Andres with simple work and puts himself at the disposal of the doctor, for ominous nutritional experiments. Whenever Wozzeck tries to communicate his fearsome visions to others he is met with incomprehension or the dubious interest of the doctor, who regards him as a »phenomenon«. Wozzeck and Marie have grown apart. Marie thinks of him only as the father of their child. She dreams of another life and feels drawn to the drum major, who has long had his eye on the woman, whose secret desires he has guessed. They end up falling into one another's arms. Wozzeck suspects that Marie is having an affair with the drum major but does not dare reproach her. A Wozzeck has no right to do so. And, more importantly, he cannot bear to accept that this last relationship, which gives him security, is just an illusion. The captain, doctor, Andres and even the village idiot – all make it clear to him that the whole town knows about Marie's fling with the drum major. Wozzeck, who is docile by nature and whose only reading matter is the bible, loses his temper and takes Marie to task. Her vague answers provoke him further so that, more than ever before, he doubts his ability to reason. When he tries to hit her, Marie puts him in his place: »better a knife in my body than you lay a hand on me...«. He lets go of her, repeating Marie's last words to himself. In the tavern Wozzeck, with complete sobriety, observes Marie and the drum major enjoying themselves. Everything spins around in his head, the music, the raucous men, Marie's squeals of delight, the drunk's philosophy and the fool's song: » I smell blood...« Wozzeck seeks out Andres in the barrack's dormitory. He is scared that he might murder Marie. Andres just can't deal with it. When the drunken drum major appears and beats Wozzeck up, there is no turning back for Wozzeck anymore. Marie realises that the drum major is not going to make her happy either. She feels ashamed when she sees her child, and begs the Saviour to forgive her adultery. She meets Wozzeck again and they go for a walk. Both feel once again, for the last time, deep affection for one another. Wozzeck wants to remember this moment of happiness as the last chapter in their love story, and kills Marie. He tries to forget what has happened in a bar. He, who never picks women up, approaches Marie's neighbour Margret. She asks why he has blood on his hand. Wozzeck runs out in panic. He drowns himself in a pond near the place where he murdered Marie. Marie's child finds out from the other children that his mother has been murdered.

Christof Loy's reading of Büchner's last work focusses on the tortured soul of the title figure. Modern medicine wanted to prove a connection between mental conflicts and physiological facts in the case of the hairdresser Johann Christian Woyzek, who stabbed his lover to death on June 21 1821. The voices this professional wig maker professed to hear all the time were called – to use a 20th century term – psychosomatic reactions. Alban Berg's multiform, which adhered to the rules of twelve-tone music, mixed with atonalilty, is built on 15 of Büchner's 31 scenes, lends each part its own characteristic colour. Berg's music retains its staggering suggestive power, not least through its dramatic expression. It concentrates only on what is happening on stage, it is – in the best sense of the word – opera music which, the composer said, »is conscious of its function as serving the drama at all times«.