Tag Archives: Alban Berg


Calixto Bieito’s 2006 staging of Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck” has reaped equal parts praise and damnation from critics and audiences.  It is a powerfully reprehensible staging of a powerfully reprehensible opera.

Wozzeck is a common solider, shaving his Captain.  The Captain chastises him for having fathered an illegitimate child with one Marie. Wozzeck defends his lack of virtue, explaining that he is too destitute to have the blessings of the Church, but Wozzeck reminds his superior of Christ’s words “suffer not the little children.” The Captain heaps even more abuse and scorn on Wozzeck, and the soldier becomes indignant.

Wozzeck and his friend Andres are cutting sticks in a field as the sun sets.  Wozzeck tells Andres of horrifying visions and Andres unsuccessfully tries to offer Wozzeck reassurance.  Wozzeck visits The Doctor.  The Doctor scolds him for abandoning his diet. The Doctor, who is obviously insane, is delighted, however, when Wozzeck tells him of the violent visions he has been having.  Meanwhile, Marie notices the regiment’s Drum Major, and the two begin an affair.  The Drum Major gives Marie earrings as he parts.  Feeling remorse for her infidelity, Marie sings her child a lullaby.

Wozzeck returns him and tells Marie of his hallucinations.  Marie is disturbed and the tension between the two of them escalates when Wozzeck notices Marie’s new earrings and begins to question her about them.  Wozzeck’s jealousy engulfs him, and he becomes wild with visions of blood.

The Captain and the Doctor are are engaged in conversation on the street.  The Doctor is giving the Captain a terminal diagnosis when they encounter Wozzeck.  The Doctor and the Captain mock Wozzeck, telling him of the affair between Marie and the Drum Major.  Wozzeck flees to a tavern where he discovers Marie and the Drum Major dancing.  The tavern idiot confronts Wozzeck, telling him ‘I smell blood,” which, naturally, sends Wozzeck into a frenzy.  In the barracks, Wozzeck gets into a fight with the Drum Major, who knocks Wozzeck down.

Later, Marie reads of the gospel account of the woman taken in adultery.  Overwhelmed with feelings of guilt, Marie joins Wozzeck for a walk in the forest.  A blood red moon rises as they are walking, and Wozzeck slashes Marie’s throat.  Wozzeck throws the knife away, and heads



This is the first of a two-part series on adaptions of Alban Berg’s controversial operas.

Be forewarned: After watching these two productions of Alban Berg’s operas “Lulu” and “Wozzeck,” showering may be advisable.

Alban Berg (1885-1934) may be the most notorious member of the Second Viennese School, even more so than leader Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) and Anton Webern (1883-1945). Schoenberg invented the twelve-tone language and is considered the boogeyman of the musical avant-garde. Webern, who composed mainly in miniature, is, possibly, the most influential of the three. Berg, on the hand, was the most romantic of the school, as influenced by Gustav Mahler as Schoenberg. Berg died young and did not live long enough to compose a large a body of work. However, he did compose what may very well be the two most repulsive operas ever written. Even Schoenberg was aghast, and urged his younger colleague to discontinue writing such filth. A premature death stopped Berg from finishing his final opera, “Lulu.” He completed two of the three acts, and the final act was completed in the short “particell” format. Some forty years later, Friedrich Cerha completed the orchestration for the third act, which premiered under the direction of Pierre Boulez. Both “Wozzeck” and “Lulu” are extreme operas from an extreme composer. One would think that this fact would make opera fans receptive to interpretive stagings.

Olivier Py and Calixto Bieito are two of the most notorious enfant terrible stage directors working in European opera today.  In 2005, Py presented a pornographic actor on stage, in full erection, for a staging of Wagner’s “Tannhauser.”  Bieito’s staging of Mozart’s “Abduction from the Seraglio” incorporated S &M and drug addiction (the story is set in a bordello), and his “Don Giovanni” explored similar themes.  In 2007 Bieito turned to adapting Berg, first with his controversial “Wozzeck,” then with an equally provocative “Lulu” in 2009.

Excerpt from Py’s stage production of Lulu

In November of 2011, Py’s filmed version of Lulu was released on home video, and it too provoked outrage among the traditionalists. American Opera fans are among the most fanatically puritanical in the world. Py and Bieito, while creating mixed reactions in Europe, are Continue reading THE UNCOMPROMISING ALBAN BERG: OLIVIER PY’S LULU (2011)