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Royal Opera House

ALBANBerg is not everyone's cup of latte, although Shostakovich and Britten were both ardent admirers. That alone ensures that you are in for a bumpy ride when seeing one his operas.

Lulu, despite the violent deaths, is almost a West End frolic compared with Wozzeck, a story of death, madness and jealousy - well, pretty much like most operas.

Wozzeck is a short opera, about 100 minutes, so it is undisturbed by any intervals, which is just as well because half the audience would probably be throwing themselves off the Opera House patio on to some unsuspecting busker below. Hmmm, that's not a bad ploy anyway.

Based on Georg Buchner's play about a former soldier who kills his mistress and is beheaded four years later despite pleas of mental instability, this revival of Keith Warner's 2002 production is compelling.

Set in an asylum laboratory, with its white tiled walls, a bedroom is placed at the front of the stage to the left. Wozzeck, magnificently played by Danish baritone Johan Reuter, is an unstable poor worker who goes over the edge when Marie, the woman with which he has had a child, played by Susan Bullock, in her Covent Garden debut, has a relationship with the Drum Major (Jorma Silvasti).

Wozzeck, who works for the Captain (Graham Clark) is used by the Doctor (Kurt Rydl) as a guinea pig for his dietary theories. The Doctor then notices Wozzeck's mental state and exploits that, while mocking him for Marie's affair with the Drum Major, who himself laughs in the face of Wozzeck. Wozzeck violently slits Marie's throat before drowning himself in one of the doctor's experimental tanks. Clark and Rydl provide a comedy element, which I can assure you is much needed at times.

The opera ends with an orchestral closing focusing on the orphan (Remi Manzi) alone, listening to other children discussing his mother's fate, and possibly already pondering his uncertain future. Daniel Harding, fresh from his triumph at La Scala, proves equal to Berg's at times harrowing atonal score.

Reuter plays Wozzeck as a man slow in mind and body, but is sympathetic to the mentally inadequate underdog. Bullock is caring to her son, but less so to her man. Her affair with the drum major is more about bringing some excitement into a drab existence.

Yes, it is disturbing, but when performed like this, it is exhilarating.

Review by Peter Wilson

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