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Image Entertainment presents
Wozzeck (1987)

"One might in desperation end it all by hanging. Then one would know just where one is."
- Franz Wozzeck (Franz Grundheber)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 04, 2001

Stars: Franz Grundheber, Hildegard Behrens, Walter Raffener, Heinz Zednik, Philip Langridge, Aage Haugland
Other Stars: Vienna State Opera, Claudio Abbado, conductor
Director: Brian Large

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, language, atonality)
Run Time: 01h:37m:06s
Release Date: August 21, 2001
UPC: 014381927528
Genre: opera

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-BC+ D-

DVD Review

Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck is notable on a number of counts. It is one of the very few 20th century works, since Puccini, to enter the standard repertoire. Its atonal and Expressionist approach is unique amongst operas. Finally, it is one of the few operas to look at the lower classes in a nonromanticized manner. This is no La Boheme.

Based on and faithfully following the drama by Georg Buechner, Berg's opera (his only complete one) centers on soldier Franz Wozzeck (Franz Grundheber) and his descent into madness. Humiliated by his commanding officer (Heinz Zednik) whom he is forced to shave, Wozzeck is also experimented upon for less than clear reasons by the malevolent Doctor (Aage Haugland), who sees him as nothing more than a guinea pig who is available to urinate on command. In the crowning blow, his girlfriend Marie (Hildegard Behrens) brazenly flaunts her unfaithfulness with her sexual relationship with a Drum Major (Walter Raffener). Wozzeck is haunted by paranoid feelings and ultimately is driven to murder Marie and then goes to the local tavern.

Berg takes established and traditional forms here and completely subverts them. The first scene in the tavern, where Wozzeck sees Marie with the Drum Major, is set to a waltz, but the 3/4 time is barely recognizable as such under Berg's nightmarishly labored and ambiguous rhythms. When the doctor and the captain run into Wozzeck and taunt him, it is in the form of a fugue, but a fugue that takes the form of J.S. Bach and, by atonality, renders it into something that Bach would hardly have recognized. The non-melodic feel of the opera is jarring to more classical and traditional tastes, but it is undeniably well-suited to the subject matter and its treatment of life as an accumulation of humiliations, miseries and betrayals.

Claudio Abbado gives the music a vigorous reading, with heavy percussion punctuating the proceedings. Indeed, this piece barely clocks in at one and a half hours, making it one of the shorter operas. Most of the cast is quite good, notably Behrens, who really brings the slatternly Marie to life in both her voice and her attitude. The disdain of the captain and the doctor are brought through well by Zednik and Haugland. The one weak link is Grundheber himself. Although he may be trying for a portrayal of Wozzeck as a helpless puppet of his fate, he comes across as simply apathetic. The motivations for his murder and collapse don't seem to register either in his acting or in his vocal work. The staging is an odd blend of the naturalistic and the suggestive; the opening sequence with Wozzeck shaving the captain takes place almost entirely in the mirror reflection.

Although certainly not for Mozartian tastes, Berg's opera does have an undeniable power in its music and story. This certainly makes for a good introduction to the opera.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image isn't bad for a live performance. Colors are generally quite good, but the transfer is a little on the dark side. I didn't observe any visual anomalies other than some mild ringing in the opening scene. Shadow detail is generally lacking, but the black levels are decent for a filmed stage presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Germanyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 presentation has a good audio range, with plenty of bass and a nicely pronounced percussion section. The imaging is such that the voices are almost entirely center-oriented, while the orchestra is heard from the mains and surrounds. This gives the slightly odd sensation of being between the stage and the orchestra. However, that's a minor quibble compared to the background noise and hiss, which is unfortunately quite substantial on this recording. Much of the noise sounds like microphone rattle: Perhaps there was a draft near the mikes? In any event, I found this background noise to be quite distracting during the quiet sections. Much of the opera is loud, however, so that problem is thankfully of limited import. The Dolby Surround track is at a much lower level than the 5.1 and provides much less clarity in the lower instruments. The voices also seem to extend into the surround, making for a disturbing audio experience. I would recommend sticking with the 5.1 track, if possible.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Anyone looking for extras here will be very disappointed. Besides English subtitles, there is nothing. Chaptering is just adequate, with one stop for each of Berg's scenes. But that's it. Not even a cast listing is included beyond the credits on the program.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

This masterwork of Expressionism and atonality is given a good performance with the exception of a rather weak lead. The transfer is decent, but there are no extras whatsoever.


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