“Wozzeck” at the Met

Have you seen the current production of Wozzeck at the Met? It’s been generally favorably reviewed, but I was troubled, as was, to some extent, Alex Ross in The New Yorker. The Kentridge production is simply too visually busy. The projections – some animated, some slowly shifting, amidst a cluttered set full of ramps and junk – were a distraction from Berg’s intricately crafted score. Maybe this kind of thing worked for The Nose, the Shostakovich opera presented by the Met in a Kentridge production several years ago; with thinner music, perhaps there was room for such a flood of images. Specific moments troubled me as well. It added nothing to have Wozzeck fussing with a film projector in the opening scene instead of shaving the Captain, apart from the obvious point that the production was packed with projections. I agree with Ross that the projected explosion at the climax of the last interlude was cringe-inducingly obvious. Ross welcomed Kentridge’s choice to start the scene in the tavern after the murder of Marie during the second of the two crescendi on B-natural, but I disagree. Not only did this spoil Berg’s cinematic jump cut to the tavern scene and its out-of-tune upright piano, but it distracted from what would otherwise have been the overwhelming power of the crescendo, which should fill your consciousness at that moment, just as it fills every musical register. Kentridge’s preference for slowly shifting images throughout the evening went against Berg’s choice of an abrupt juxtaposition at that moment. All night there were haunting images, but too many of them. (Was one of the projected images of detached heads in a field supposed to look like Schoenberg? That would be a fine piece of Freudian patricide on Berg’s behalf.) The performance was very fine; do I remember Levine’s performances as more shattering because of their inherent properties, or because I was struggling to attend to the music last night?