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Review: 'Wozzeck' Is a Powerful Reminder of a Santa Fe Tradition

by Olin Chism 4 Aug 2011 12:56 PM

An extraordinarily powerful performance of Berg’s “Wozzeck” adhered to a long tradition that the Santa Fe Opera will continue in a time of uncertainty in the world of opera.


Nicola Beller Carbone as Marie, Stuart Skelton as the Drum Major and below the bed, Zechariah Baca as Maria’s child in Wozzeck
These may not be the worst of times, but in the world opera, they are also not the best of times. Yet the Santa Fe Opera, to all outward appearances at least, is an island of stability. President Carey Ramos reports a balanced budget and plans for a future adhering to company traditions.

The summer of 2011 seems a healthy example of that tradition, lacking only a world premiere to complete the picture. The company is producing a modern classic, a virtually unknown opera by Vivaldi, a rarity celebrating Menotti’s 100th year, and only two surefire draws: Gounod’s old-timey Faust and (of course) Puccini’s La Boheme.

Berg’s Wozzeck, the modern classic, proved to be an extraordinarily powerful example of musical drama in Wednesday night’s performance in Crosby Theatre. Richard Paul Fink dominated the evening as the psychologically disintegrating Wozzeck, not quite matching Klaus Kinski’s intensity in the film version of the story but coming close — and Kinski didn’t have to sing (thank goodness).

Fink had a powerful set of colleagues, including Nicola Beller Carbone as the multi-timing (not just two-timing) Marie, Robert Brubaker as the sadistic but cowardly captain, Eric Owens as everybody’s nightmare of a doctor (he experiments on his patients, especially Wozzeck), and Stuart Skelton as the brutal drum major.

In this revival from 2001, director Daniel Slater presents the opera almost as if Wozzeck were experiencing it, not simply performing for an audience. Even the sets reflect Wozzeck’s mental decline. In one brilliant stroke, Robert Innes Hopkins’ set, enhanced by Rick Fisher’s lighting, twists and tilts weirdly as the audience shares Wozzeck’s crazy vision. The bloody moon in Wozzeck’s final moments is highly effective. Elsewhere the sets, formed from simple wooden planks, reflect the poverty and sordid circumstances of Wozzeck’s world..

Slater makes the chorus, which performed superbly, a significant part of the drama with their accusatory behavior toward the tormented soldier. Conductor David Robertson drew powerful sounds from the orchestra, which was a major factor in the evening’s dramatic success.

Although Wozzeck is a three-act opera, Santa Fe is presenting it without intermission, bringing it in in an hour and a half. That this was not a test of endurance was another sign of success.

One of the pleasures of an evening at the Santa Fe Opera is the geographical setting. Hopkins’ set capitalizes on this. At the start the rear of the stage is open, forming a picture frame for the desert flora and mountains visible in the distance. On Wednesday evening the sound of crickets chirping enhanced this outdoorsy effect.

Photos by Ken Howard