Randall Bills (The Fool), Richard Paul Fink (Wozzeck), and Nicola Beller Carbone (Marie) in Wozzeck, Santa Fe Opera, 2011 (photo by Ken Howard)
Richard Paul Fink and Eric Owens both made pleasing debuts in Santa Fe, as Wozzeck and the sadistic Doctor, respectively, neither so striking to be singled out but both strong. German soprano Nicola Beller Carbone, also in her company debut, was a strident, lustful Marie, a voice that was not always pleasing, growling at the bottom and often ugly at the top. Her native German pronunciation stood out in a cast that struggled to make the text comprehensible. The strongest performances came from the large-framed, bravura-strong Drum Major of Stuart Skelton (his brutal smack-down of Wozzeck in the barracks scene, choreographed by Jonathan Rider, was particularly vicious) and the twitching, self-parodying Captain of Robert Brubaker, all neurotic falsetto, angry shouts, and intense fear. Patricia Risley's Margret and especially former apprentice Jason Slayden's Andres were a little underpowered but dramatically effective.
Nicola Beller Carbone (Marie), Stuart Skelton (Drum Major), and Chamber Orchestra (Santa Fe Opera Orchestra Members) in Wozzeck, Santa Fe Opera, 2011 (photo by Ken Howard)
The staging opens in silence, as Wozzeck is confronted on the stage by the entire chorus of anonymous faces, setting the background of the social anxiety and paranoia the character is going to experience. Before the first downbeat of music, there is a sense of unease and hostility, which only increases in both the score and Slater's direction. At the end of Act II, scene 4, there is a two-line interaction between Wozzeck and Der Narr (an Idiot, credited here as The Fool), who says that he can smell blood (the smell of a skunk's spray had serendipitously begun to waft through the theater a few moments before Der Narr sang "Aber es riecht"). Slater expands this character, played malevolently by Randall Bills, into a mute presence through the end of the opera, shadowing Wozzeck as if his personality had literally split in two. The Fool shows Wozzeck the knife and how to cut Marie's throat, and he seems to be taking Wozzeck's place at some points in the action. His face is covered in white paint, and as Wozzeck's paranoia and the sound of the voices in his head increases, the entire cast becomes zombie-like with white face makeup as well (perhaps going too far over the top in the frantic third scene of the final act).
Sarah Bryan Miller, Robertson drives a riveting 'Wozzeck' (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 11)
Kyle MacMillan, Santa Fe's adventuresome operas include "Griselda" and "Wozzeck" (Denver Post, August 7)
Lawrence A. Johnson, Fink a tour de force in Santa Fe’s riveting “Wozzeck” (The Classical Review, August 4)
Sarah Noble, The view from here: opera in Santa Fe (Limelight Magazine, August 4)
John Stege, Shock Therapy (Santa Fe Reporter, August 3)
Mark Swed, David Robertson conducts 'Wozzeck' in Santa Fe (Los Angeles Times, August 2)
Brian Holt, Death and the Maiden (Out West Arts, July 31)
This opera will be repeated on August 12 and 17.