William Kentridge’s production of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck is a strange, intoxicating feast for the eye that tips you into a nightmarish world warped by war and by Wozzeck’s paranoid delusions. It feels as if you have been sucked into a noirish painting or animation. As the opera progresses, it increasingly seems like you are seeing things through the central character’s fracturing mind.
Michael Honeyman (centre) with John Longmuir and Richard Anderson. Photograph © Keith Saunders
Berg wrote the opera (first performed in 1925) between 1914 and 1922, basing it on Georg Büchner’s unfinished 1836 play Woyzeck. In 1915, Berg was sent to fight with an Austrian army and his own experiences on the frontline had an impact when he returned to complete the opera. Writing to his wife in 1918, he said that the character of Wozzeck was partly based on himself: “I have been spending these war years just as dependent on people I hate, have been in chains, sick, captive, resigned, in fact, humiliated.”
Berg uses 15 short scenes taken from the 27 in Büchner’s play, and sets them to a complex, atonal score in a tight, three-act...