The story is bleak, very bleak; the music bleak and very loud, yet Wozzeck is regarded as an outstanding 20th century opera. Written between 1914 and 1922 by Viennese composer Alban Berg, Wozzeck was first performed in 1925. It was Berg’s first opera; Lulu came later, not performed until 1937. Berg (1885-1935) wrote the Wozzeck libretto himself, adapting a play by Georg Büchner which Berg had seen at its premiere in Vienna in 1914. The music, which flirts with atonality, is shaped to reflect the protagonist: a lowly soldier, his deteriorating mental state and the multiple humiliations he suffers.
The world premiere at the Berlin State Opera in 1925 was conducted by Erich Kleiber; it quickly became established in European opera houses. The first American performance was in Philadelphia in 1931 under Leopold Stokowski. There were several concert performances in England in the ‘30s but it was not staged until 1952 at the Royal Opera House. Its first Australian staging was exclusively at the Adelaide Festival in 1976, performed by the Australian Opera under Edward Downes in a production by Elijah Moshinsky. The next production here was by Opera Australia at SOH in 1999 directed by Barrie Kosky. This month, in 7 performances from 25 Jan, conducted by Andrea Molino, there will be a visually striking production by artist and director William Kentridge. Already seen at the Salzburg Festival, this acclaimed co-production will be a major event.
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free