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2012-11-19, New York, Avery Fisher Hall, Wozzeck


Concert Performance

Composer : Alban Berg
Librettist : The composer after the drama Woyzeck by Georg Büchner
Venue and Dates : Avery Fisher Hall 19.11.2012
Conductor : Esa-Pekka Salonen

Performers :

Wozzeck : Simon Keenlyside

Drum Major : Hubert Francis

Andres : Joshua Ellicott

Captain : Peter Hoare

Doctor : Frode Olsen

Marie : Angela Denoke

Margret :  Anna Burford

First Apprentice:   Henry Waddington

Second Apprentice: Adrian Clarke

Idiot : Harry Nicoll

Photo Gallery

Sound bites

” … As Wozzeck, Simon Keenlyside enjoyed a great personal triumph. Hurling himself into the drama with a dazzling affiinity for the expressive physical manifestations of madness and with tortured facial responses to Wozzeck’s downward spiral, the baritone sang with unfettered power and a full palette of vocal colours which he drew upon to project the character’s ravaged humanity. Keenlyside’s performance was nothing short of perfection. …”

David M. Rice, Classical Source, 21.11.2012

” … Keenlyside brought his special brand of musical and dramatic intelligence to the title character. He masterfully navigated the variety of Berg’s score. From his nervous gestures even before uttering his first monotonic “Jawohl, Herr Hauptmann!”, Keenlyside’s Wozzeck was clearly a defeated man, providing services for the Captain and serving as a guinea pig for the Doctor’s absurd medical experiments – to supplement his army pay in order to support Marie and their child. From the very beginning and the hallucinations that prompt Andres’s cry “He, bist Du toll?” (Are you mad?), Keenlyside drew a vivid portrait of Wozzeck’s descent into madness, culminating with his fatal stabbing of Marie, his compulsive search for the murder weapon and his drowning – witnessed by the impassive Captain and Doctor. …”

Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 20.11.2012

” … The performance of Berg’s “Wozzeck” at Avery Fisher Hall on Monday night was called an opera in concert. But the impressive cast, headed by the baritone Simon Keenlyside in the title role, and the conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, who drew an intense, harrowing and, finally, deeply poignant performance of this landmark work from the Philharmonia Orchestra, were not about to let the confines of the concert format inhibit them. …

Wozzeck, an impoverished soldier living in a garrison town with his common-law wife and illegitimate son, is becoming a signature role for Mr. Keenlyside, who was fresh from his triumph as Prospero in Thomas Adès’s opera “The Tempest” at the Met.

One of the most charismatic actors in opera, Mr. Keenlyside was a haunted Wozzeck in a daringly modern production at the Paris National Opera in 2008. If Monday night’s performance had the feel of a lived-in staging, that was probably because Mr. Keenlyside, along with several members of this cast, had taken part in a semi-staged presentation, with costumes and videos, that Mr. Salonen conducted with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 2009.

Mr. Keenlyside’s essentially lyric baritone voice may be a little light for the music. At times on Monday, during anguished outbursts, he sounded as if he were pushing his sound. But he brought intense expressivity to every line and captured the tormented character’s volatile mood swings.

From the moment he appeared in the opening scene, when Wozzeck shaves the Captain for whom he performs menial tasks, Mr. Keenlyside embodied the character. Obviously, in this concert performance he did not actually shave the Captain (the tenor Peter Hoare). But he brushed off the Captain’s jacket and straightened his hair, sometimes tottering on his feet as he nervously used one leg to scratch an itch on the other.

As the moralizing Captain, Mr. Hoare lectured Wozzeck for living in an unwed state with Marie, and delivered lines in a haughty, bright tenor. Mr. Keenlyside just took it, looking the essence of a beaten-down man. … ”

Paul Pelkonen, super-conductor.blogspot, 21.11.2012

” … Mr. Keenlyside, fresh from his run as Prospero in the Met’s new production of The Tempest lay down his staff for Wozzeck’s knife, inhabiting the soldier’s madness for a harrowing three acts. Indeed, his Wozzeck seems unbalanced from the first few moments, jittering and twitching in the fields with Andreas, and barely interacting wih Marie and their child, here played by empty air.
As the drama progressed, the British baritone became more disheveled. Moving between spoken word, sprechstimme and (occasional) singing, he sank quickly into full-on dementia, huddling on Mr. Salonen’s podium as if conductor and orchestra were among his persecutors. His final murder of Marie had apocalyptic power, backed by the full strength of the Philharmonia forces.

This performance reunited Mr. Keenlyside with his old Parisian partner, Angela Denoke, as Marie, the mother of Wozzeck’s child. The two singers played off their long experience of portraying this unhappy couple, their scenes moving swiftly towards her murder in the last act. The only limitation of the small stage was a lack of a young Wozzeck for the domestic scenes. The choral singer portraying their child did not actually appear until the last scene of the opera. …”

Ronald Blum, Associated Press, 21.11.2012

” … These singers acted with such conviction that the 90-minute, three-act performance was riveting from start to finish. Keenlyside, who completed a run Saturday as Prospero in Thomas Ades’ “The Tempest” at the Metropolitan Opera, commanded the stage. Among those in the seats participating in the huge ovation at the end were baritone Thomas Hampson and mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung. …

With dark red suspenders, his shoulders slightly hunched, Keenlyside resembled Len Cariou’s Sweeney Todd. His voice, inflection and movement combined to create an indelible portrayal, his mannerisms becoming increasingly agitated as the taunting from the blustery Captain (tenor Peter Hoare) and nasty Doctor (bass Tijl Faveyts) took its toll. By the time he saw Marie dancing with Drum Major (tenor Hubert Francis), Wozzeck’s rage seemed to be a natural byproduct.

Instead of stabbing Marie to death, he hugged the life out of her — and Denoke walked offstage as if a ghost. … “

operaobsession.blogspot, 22.11.2012

” … In the performance of Simon Keenlyside in the title role, the anxiety and anguish present throughout the opera seemed to find their distillation. … Simon Keenlyside’s Wozzeck was so haunted that watching his anguished disintegration was painful. Trying to hold together the fragments of a self constantly reproached and denied by those around him, Keenlyside’s Wozzeck seemed from the beginning heartwrenchingly alone. His mental torment (present and past) was realized in physical tics which intensified over the course of the evening, and from which he rarely enjoyed freedom, as he gazed at and murmured against an unresponsive heaven, often scrubbing a hand over his face as if a vision of a less brutal world were only a film of dust away. Keenlyside’s apparent fearlessness extended to his vocal as well as his dramatic performance. His use of text and tone was admirable, and in many of the awkwardly shaped lines he revealed an underlying sweetness, and his scenes with Denoke were marked by real tenderness. In vulnerability and fear and rage, however, he roared and cried as well as sang, until driven to the near-inarticulate shrieks of “Weh! weh!”  … “

unpredictableinevitability, 22.11.2012

” … Simon Keenlyside, in particular, was a total triumph in this regard, his Wozzeck deranged from the start and yet embracing his destiny as time went on. … Keenlyside revelled in the expressive possibilities given to him by Berg’s music, and, good as he was in Thomas Adès’s The Tempest, he was in another league here. I still fear that his voice is fraying somewhat, for much of his Wozzeck was delivered in a kind of Sprechstimme hybrid, but the intensity of performance was much improved from an already high level three years ago.  … “

Martin Bernheimer, ft.com, 22.11.2012

” … The cast was dominated by Simon Keenlyside, who focused Wozzeck’s agonies, physical, mental and vocal, with poignant desperation (he succeeded the excellent Johan Reuter, the baritone protagonist in California performances). … “

Fred Cohn, Opera News, 2/2013

” … Simon Keenlyside sang the title role, applying the gifts that make him such a wonderful singer of lieder. The British baritone’s physical demeanor may have been a shade overemphatic: his Wozzeck had the mien of a near-catatonic simpleton. But he clearly wanted to establish a dichotomy between the soldier’s dull-witted affect and the rich inner life that he revealed with every note he sang. He made Wozzeck’s music sound like an outgrowth of German Romanticism. By singing the role with the soulfulness he brings to Schumann and Brahms, Keenlyside revealed the passionate nature that drives Wozzeck to his unhappy fate. …”

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue November 23, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Oh my, what wonderful reviews! Warm congratulations to Simon and the whole company.
I can’t wait until the Vienna Wozzeck next year but I do so hope the production is simple. This concert performance proves that less is often more.

DK November 23, 2012 at 11:15 am
DK November 22, 2012 at 2:43 pm

One more review here:

I will post a bit later with a few comments but Ally’s review was pretty spot on and complete! 🙂

Ally November 21, 2012 at 1:05 am

It was the last ‘live’ event with Mr. Keenlyside here in New York, ‘Wozzeck’ in concert in Avery Fisher Hall. I was afraid that Simon’s voice would be tired after Prospero but his singing was perfect. All performers were very good, even the smallest parts. This kind of ‘anti-bel canto’ singing is not easy, I believe. Maestro Salonen did his best. The orchestra was very balanced, gorgeous sound. Tragic story and very emotional experience for listeners.

I was so happy to meet DK again. We first met at the last ‘The Tempest’ performance and it was a great pleasure to discuss music and to find that we are close in our likes (and dislikes, by the way). Thank you, DK.

In this semi-staged production singers can act only in the narrow ‘proscenium’; nothing on stage, very simple ‘props’. For ‘wine’ bottles they used regular water bottles, and dollar bills were ‘German money’. Not even a chair, Wozzeck sat on the steps of the conductor’s podium. No knife, he didn’t stab Marie but strangled her. Later Simon ‘pretended’ that Wozzeck found a knife in the grass and threw it away. No special costumes, simple, mostly black clothes, only Drum Major dressed up in tails and white tie, a concert substitution for his – beware women! – shining band uniform. They run all three acts without intermissions, just two short breaks, performers left the stage and Salonen relaxed in the chair before stepping back to the podium.

It’s clear that Wozzeck is a doomed man from the very first moment. He is nervous, non-stop rubbing his face, messing with hair, slouching, running back and forth. Face distorted, uneasy grimace, lips trembling, looks like he is trying to say something to himself or to others – but nobody is listening, even his friend Andres thinks that what Wozzeck says is just rubbish. Poor guy doesn’t expect anything good from the ‘superiors’, only teasing, humiliating and moral-lecturing (both the Captain and the Doctor) or bulling and beating from the local super-macho Drum Major. His pathetic attempts to defend himself explaining that he is not bad, he is poor, never worked.

Angela Denoke as Marie is a real woman in flesh and blood. She wants a little bit better life for herself. O yes, she likes Wozzeck in her way, he is a nice guy but so miserable, not a breadwinner, not a good father, and Drum Major is so a man, and he is rich, at least he can give her presents.

There was a short part for the boy choir, only a dozen of boys from the whole choir on stage. A little soloist was invited to be with ’big boys and girls’. Simon was holding his hand while they took the bow. He already worked with these boys a year ago (Britten’s ‘War Requiem’.) I have no doubts that young choristers are well educated and know about Simon’s treble childhood. Of course, nobody can guarantee the voice in future, but who knows… Mr. Keenlyside is the best role model for them, isn’t he?

They all deserved a huge standing ovation, and they got it! Simon was smiling (what a pleasure after seeing Wozzeck’s tortured face for two hours), nice and shy as usual. Well, at least after 25+ years ‘in the business’ he’d learned how to take bows :))

Sue November 20, 2012 at 6:35 pm

First review I’ve found – ‘Keenlyside’s performance was nothing short of perfection’


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