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Berg
Woyzeck
Synopsis
Libretto
Wozzeck
  • Alban Berg. Opera in three acts. 1922.
  • Libretto by the composer, after Georg Büchner's play Woyzeck.
  • First performance at the Staatsoper, Berlin, on 14th December 1925.
CHARACTERS
Wozzeck, a soldier baritone
Drum Major heroic tenor
Andres, a soldier, friend of Wozzeck lyric tenor
Captain tenor
Doctor bass
Marie, Wozzeck's common-law wife soprano
Margret, her neighbour contralto
First Apprentice deep bass
Second Apprentice high baritone
Madman high tenor
Marie's son treble

Wozzeck is shaving the Captain, who tells him to go slower and makes fun of him, particularly over the matter of his illegitimate child. Eventually Wozzeck is roused into an indignant answer. The second scene finds Wozzeck and Andres cutting sticks in an inhospitable open field, where Wozzeck seems to fear the noises he hears. Marie, from her house, watches the band march past and is saluted by the Drum Major, who seems to show an interest in her. Wozzeck returns and tries to tell Marie of his fears, to her alarm. The Doctor diagnoses a fixed idea as the source of Wozzeck’s difficulties, while the fifth scene returns to Marie, outside her house, where she is seduced by the Drum Major. Marie lulls her child to sleep again and Wozzeck comes in, suspicious of the earrings that the Drum Major has given, which she claims to have found in the street. In the street the Captain tells the Doctor to go slower and the Doctor diagnoses a fatal illness in the Captain. Both mock Wozzeck, when they meet him, laughing at Marie's relationship with the Drum Major. Wozzeck rushes away. He now threatens Marie, who leaves him to himself. In a tavern garden Wozzeck watches Marie and the Drum Major. Others dance and celebrate, but Wozzeck, at the prompting of a Madman, sees only blood. In the guard-room Wozzeck fights with the boasting Drum Major, full of his conquest, and is knocked down. The third act opens in Marie's room, where she reads in the Bible of the woman taken in adultery. In the half-light of evening Marie and Wozzeck walk together along a forest path. He talks of fidelity and love and stabs her. In a tavern Wozzeck drinks to forget, his blood-stained hands noticed by Margret, Marie's neighbour. Wozzeck returns to the forest path, looking for his knife. Stumbling against Marie's body, he finally goes out of his mind, wading into the forest pool, where he drowns. The Doctor and the Captain pass by, unconcerned. The next morning, outside Marie's house, her child plays on his hobby-horse. Another child tells him what has happened, and they go together to see the woman's body.

Wozzeck, apart from the relevance and power of its plot, with its associated moral and social connections, is an elaborate musical structure. Berg makes use of a number of traditional forms, incorporated in an over-all pattern of symphonic complexity. The second act starts with a sonata form, followed by a fantasia and fugue, leading to an important slow movement, a scherzo, with two trios and a rondo. The first and third acts are more loosely constructed, but still in a series of established forms. The musical idiom, apart from the forms used, is in part atonal, in part diatonic, with other scale patterns used. Vocally it includes passages of Sprechgesang (sung speech). A concert version of excerpts from the opera, made in 1924, includes parts of all three acts in orchestral form, while Marie's scene, as the band marches past, has an occasional dramatic place in concert programmes.

 


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