Friday, December 11, 2009

Wozzeck Sneak Preview

Reserved for mr feldheimLast night at the SFCM, I attended Ensemble Parallèle's preview of their up-coming Wozzeck. Artistic Director Nicole Paiement talked about the opera's rigorous formal structure & its expressionistic techniques. She obviously enjoys studying this score, & her love & admiration for it shine through in her speaking. I was impressed by her clear ideas about how the score relates to the drama. She pointed out how Margaret's vocal line switches from tonal to atonal in the scene in the tavern, reflecting Wozzeck's increasing paranoia. The opening scene's musical structure is based on the Baroque dance suite, because the Captain is an older establishment figure dominating Wozzeck.

Live musical examples were performed by Bojan Knezevic (Wozzeck), Erin Neff (Margret), & Michael Desnoyers (Fool), accompanied by Keisuke Nakagoshi on the piano. Mr. Knezevic sang Berg's very modern vocal lines with surprising lyricism. His big voice was a little frightening in that small studio space. I expect him to be very effective in the actual production. Ms. Neff, though suffering from a bad cold, immediately dropped into character as the slatternly Margaret.

John Rea's chamber orchestration reduces the orchestra to 20 players. Ms. Paiement explained that he combines timbres to make us think we hear instruments, such as the tuba, that are not there. She played us an excerpt with a full orchestra followed by Mr. Rea's reduction of the same music to demonstrate that none of the complex texture has been lost. The reduction sounds crisper & less weighty.

This production will incorporate large video projections, both pre-recorded & live. Stage Director Brian Staufenbiel was on hand, & we got a preview of a prerecorded sequence showing Wozzeck's nightmare. Even the cast was seeing this for the 1st time. It's deliberately designed to look like an expressionist silent film, with a grainy, jumpy image quality & an iris shot. Mr. Knezevic would have been a great silent-movie actor. Underwater scenes will be shot next week.

This production seems to be in good hands. Though innovative in some ways, the production looks like it will sacrifice none of the beauty of the score. Ensemble Parallèle's Wozzeck will be presented January 30 and 31, 2010, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

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