With this new production of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, English National Opera continues to ride the crest of a wave of gripping productions. Here Carrie Cracknell, Associate Director at the Royal Court, updates the action to contemporary Britain and a community of veterans returned from Afghanistan. The immediacy of this may prove controversial but it is a coherent production set out as a kitchen sink drama focused on individuals rather than high politics or abstract ideas.
Leigh Melrose, on excellent vocal form, paints a convincing portrait of Wozzeck, the subaltern committing petty crimes to scrape a living while bending to the will (and ignoring the hypocrisy) of powerful establishment figures such as the Captain (Tom Randle) and Doctor (James Morris). Wozzeck’s two constants are his common-law wife Marie, a superb UK debut by Sara Jakubiak, and their son, the delightful Harry Polden. This production suggests that Wozzeck’s visions, which prevent him from attending to Marie or his son, relate to memories of the trauma experienced by Afghan children, which he witnessed.
Most of Cracknell’s changes to the scenography (the moonlit pool of tragedy is replaced by Marie’s kitchen) are successful, dispatching with any romantic undertones and reinforcing the full horror of the situation. One exception, however, is an alteration to the order of events in the final scenes, which arguably blunts the impact of the original ending.
Just as exciting as the onstage drama is the sound world emanating from the pit. The ENO orchestra, under the baton of Edward Gardner, is on fire, whether in the lyrical Act 1, scene 3 lullaby or the thrilling, but terrifying, twelve note chord at the end of Act 3, scene 4. (Nik Dasgupta)
Until 25 May (six performances) at the London Coliseum, Saint Martin’s Lane, Charing Cross, WC2N 4ES with start times of 6.30pm and 7.30pm. For tickets (£19-£95) visit the Coliseum website.
Londonist received a complimentary ticket and programme from the English National Opera press team.
Photo: Leigh Melrose as Wozzeck and Sara Jakubiak as Marie in Carrie Cracknell’s new production of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, © Alastair Muir.