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Berg: Wozzeck, 1970/Hamburg DVD

Robert Levine

Artistic Quality:

Sound Quality:

This film of Wozzeck was made in 1970 under the aegis of Rolf Liebermann, who was then the innovative General Director of the Hamburg State Opera. Filmed in and around a deserted castle, the atmosphere can practically be felt: the damp stone walls, the fetid-looking ponds, uninviting woods, and misty fields all add to this hideous story. Indeed, this film is the most effective performance of Wozzeck I’ve ever encountered. The claustrophobia of the setting becomes another character. Joachim Hess directed, and the characters’ inner and outer lives–Wozzeck’s confusion, suffering, and rage, the smug Captain, the detached, obviously crazy Doctor, the pitiable Marie, the swaggering Drum Major–are all crystal clear. The opera is filled with short, cinematic scenes; in fact, it is ideally suited to film. And during the many orchestral interludes between scenes, when we’d normally be looking at a descended curtain or a blank stage in the opera house, we often get ambience that is the visual equivalent of the music. Masterful.

The performances are glorious. Toni Blankenheim, in the title role, is quietly desperate. He never overacts or oversings. His role as a victim is complete because he can’t quite grasp it and when he finally does snap it’s horrendous and genuinely tragic. Sena Jurinac’s great-looking Marie is a loving mother and a woman full of need, stuck in a world and relationship with little hope, and she sings every note, without shouting or undue histrionics. Hans Sotin’s ramrod-straight, scornful Doctor is beautifully sung and truly terrifying. The Captain of Gerhard Unger is totally in-your-face (and he’s filmed that way as well), unafraid of the weird, whistle-like high notes or his odd behavior.

All of the singers–who lip-synch almost unnoticeably–are also excellent actors. This is a production, a film, that gets to the psychology of this complex work like a laser-beam. Bruno Maderna’s conducting is clear and clean; what we hear is what the camera registers, and he keeps the singers scrupulously close to the notes of the Sprechstimme, making certain that they are notes, indeed. The monaural sound is fine, and the picture I suspect is as clear as the directors wanted it to be, adding to the overall dankness. Don’t miss this. [9/20/2007]



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This one

ALBAN BERG - Wozzeck

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