Everyone involved in this November 2010 live filming from the Bolshoi – Greek conductor, Russian director, Austrian and American leads – knows exactly where they are going and gets there triumphantly. Currentzis gets first-class playing and ensemble in the sort of fiery, expression-full but quintessentially non-Romantic account of the score that we have heard previously from Boulez and Abbado (and Salonen in a quite recent RFH concert). Nigl’s carefully paced Wozzeck (far less ‘expressionist’ than we may be used to) and Byers’s pitch-perfect everyday working woman of a Marie are ably supported by Paster’s large Captain, Migunov’s virtually insane Doctor and Muravitsky’s pomp-filled yet cowardly Drum Major. All integrate a well-rehearsed command of Berg’s notes and style into an often demandingly physical production.
Tcherniakov (who also designs set and costumes) places the action in a Rubik’s cube of nine contemporary living rooms in a city high-rise (Marie’s appartment is just one of these), in a stage-width modern bar, or (for Wozzeck hunting his murder weapon) in complete darkness. Sometimes the other eight rooms are occupied by families (it’s where the children sing from to tell Marie’s child about her death), sometimes – in moments of chamber-like anguish for Wozzeck later in the opera – by instrumental soloists, especially the cello, from the orchestra. Black mobile curtain screens (on which scene numbers, stage directions and surtitles are projected, Brechtian style) select which spaces we watch. There is no attempt at naturalistic depiction of a world outside (the director explains this in a stylishly brutalist note that the fainter-hearted should read after viewing). The effect is to throw all the focus on to Wozzeck’s mental state and observations of his often callous and mad fellow humans – Wozzeck as saint (the large number of Bible quotations in the text make a huge sense here), prophet or only sane human being.
Sound and vision (video direction by Andy Sommer) are wholly at one with the production. There are (well-integrated) freaky moments – the killing of Marie definitely one – but, unless you cannot cope with the loss of an early-19th-century period setting, this production will furnish the clearest possible exposé of the Berg/Büchner drama. Among present visual rivals only the Chéreau/Barenboim is worth the detour for the staging.