Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Ensemble Parallèle's Wozzeck

Ensemble Parallèle
John Rea's Orchestration
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
January 31 at 2:00 p.m.

Nicole Paiement, conductor
Brian Staufenbiel, stage director

Bojan Knezevic, Wozzeck
John Duykers, Captain
Patricia Green,Marie
Kai Nau, Marie & Wozzeck's Child
Phillip Skinner, Doctor
AJ Glueckert, Drum Major
J. Raymond Meyers, Andres
Erin Neff, Margret
John Bischoff, First Apprentice
Torlef Borsting, Second Apprentice
Michael Desnoyers, Madman/Soldier

Ensemble Parallèle ambitiously presented this chamber version of Wozzeck in 2 performances at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this weekend. The slimmed down orchestration required less than 30 musicians in the pit, but the orchestra made plenty of sound & played quite alertly for an intense 90 minutes. Nicole Paiement's conducting was fluid & responsive to the constantly shifting demands of the music. She obviously prepared well.

The singing was uniformly fine. Bojan Knezevic has a powerful & beautiful voice, & his Wozzeck is noble & intelligent. This Wozzeck is not stupid or unaware but rather overwhelmed by circumstances. John Duykers gave a wonderfully grotesque performance as the Captain. I was impressed by his acting & his narrowly focused voice. Phillip Skinner also gave an excellent singing/acting performance as the cartoonish Doctor. The production cleverly exaggerates the menace of these tormentors by projecting live video of their faces at a huge size during their Act I scenes with Wozzeck.

Video projections are put to good use throughout the production. The videos are made to look like 1920's silent film, complete with scratches & skips. As the murder scene progresses, an image of the moon grows larger & redder. The climactic orchestral interlude following the death of Wozzeck is accompanied by slow motion shots of Mr. Knezevic sinking underwater with his eyes & mouth open in horror.

The audience on Sunday seemed to be completely absorbed by the drama, & we might have sat in silence for a long while after the final, tentative notes of the opera, if a title had not come up announcing "Ende".

At a reception after the performance, SF Opera General Director David Gockley was spotted, as well as ACT Artistic Director Carey Perloff. As we entered the theater, my concert companion also recognized actor Liam Vincent, whom we had both seen recently in She Stoops to Comedy.


Gavin Plumley said...

How was the reduced version? I think I would miss the brute force of Berg's orchestration and the differentiation between the main band and the chamber forces in the second act. Looks like a great production, though.

Axel Feldheim said...

Ensemble Parallele is a small group, & really like their ambition in tackling this opera. The reduced orchestration preserved the complexity of the score, & I did not feel like I was getting cheated out of any of the music. But of course we did not get those big orchestral extremes. This was a Wozzeck on a budget, after all! I missed the massed sound of a full orchestra most during the raise-the-roof crescendo on B & the interlude following Wozzeck's drowning. Recordings provided the off stage military band in Act I & the children's voices in the last scene. There was an on-stage pianist for the tavern scene, though.

The smaller orchestra was a good fit for the moderately sized venue & there was always a good balance between the singers & the pit. It was musically a very fine performance & especially welcome during this period when there is otherwise no opera in SF.