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