In Review: McIntyre, Mayes, Gartland, and Watson thrill in DMMO "Wozzeck"

“The audience at the performance I attended on July 6, was open to the risk DMMO took and rewarded them with their applause. The applause after the 90-minute show would not stop. DMMO had to lower the "curtain" and turn on the house lights before the applause would die down. . . The women who made this production made an extremely memorable night that I won't soon forget. Each of these women took the idea of insanity and incorporated it into their different elements. . . With this technical of a show, it is imperative that the show has a director with a strong vision. The direction of Kristine McIntyre beautifully ties all of these aspects together. Her choices in staging use the sets, lights, and costumes to their fullest potential. Her contribution to staging insanity was in the staging of the 15 scenes within the show. Each scene was staged completely differently, yet it all effortlessly flowed together. Even the three scenes at Wozzeck's house, while in the same room, had their own unique view of the room. None of the items were ever in the same order as you came into the room. Her choices as a director have me excited to see next seasons production of "Sweeny Todd" which she will be directing. . .

There is one performance from the evening to me that took everything and tied it together, and that is Michael Mayes’ astonishing performance as Wozzeck. Every moment Mayes had onstage illustrated how Wozzeck was losing his sanity. The faces he made each time he was having a vision you could see the horror in his face as to what he was seeing. You didn't need dialogue to understand what he was seeing, you just needed to know it was horrible. What was even more impressive was his deep and full singing voice. The way he controlled his voice reflected what his character was facing in each scene. It is a performance that will stay with me for a long time.”

-Broadway World

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"Des Moines Metro Opera’s production of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck was a powerful theatrical experience. The atonal masterpiece is 98 minutes of psychological thriller in operatic form, immersing the audience in the dark and disturbing world of an unstable mind. It was absolutely riveting and sometimes hard to watch, but the emotions, whether good or bad, were always intense. Shout out to the spectacular, ALL FEMALE production team that created the bleak and menacing atmosphere of Wozzeck’s troubled existence.

. . . Kristine McIntyre’s stage direction showed us the world through Wozzeck’s eyes. Certain characters and scenes were exaggerated and grotesque, accentuating Wozzeck’s unreliable interpretation of reality. Other moments, however, were unsettling precisely because they felt so realistic. The omnipresent menacing atmosphere was palpable throughout the opera, and McIntyre did not pull any punches when it came to the pivotal murder scene. She did not hide anything from the audience. We watched as Wozzeck slit Marie’s throat, leaving her body splayed on the stage for the rest of the scene. Frankly, it was difficult to watch, but anything less jarring would have been a disservice to the story. Wozzeck is full of disturbing interactions, but at the root of the distortions and delusions there are dark truths about rage, violence, and poverty that continue to be relevant today… A violent murder, a frantic suicide, and an orphaned child left behind.

The opera ended with Wozzeck’s and Marie’s child playing alone, not comprehending what has happened to his parents or the dismal future ahead of him. The little boy stared out at the audience with a sad and empty expression, his hand starting to twitch at his side, hearkening back to his father. This subtle tick spoke volumes: the cycle will repeat itself. . . .

Robert Watson portrayed Wozzeck’s sexual rival, the Drum Major. Watson brought a physical swagger to this arrogant character who was obsessed with “breeding little drum majors.” (Gross.) His seduction of Marie didn’t feel completely consensual, and when she reluctantly gives into his aggressive advances, it is out of resignation rather than temptation. . .

Sara Gartland sang the role of Marie, Wozzeck’s common law wife and mother of his child. . . Gartland portrayed this fallen and fragile woman with sympathy and maturity. . . Gartland sang some of the most beautiful vocal lines of the opera, making atonal melodies feel just as luxurious as her more romantic roles. . .

Michael Mayes was a dramatic beast in the title role of Wozzeck. The baritone took on the gruelling physicality of the staging without hesitation, throwing himself onto the floor and into pits and dangling in a mental health treatment swing that looked like a torture contraption while his head was in a vice! Mayes’ vocal performance ran the gamut from timid terror to unhinged wrath. He also employed a variety of physical ticks to further convey the undercurrent of Wozzeck’s unraveling mental state. Mayes radiated a tense energy onstage, like a taut wire ready to snap. It was both frightening and fascinating.

Des Moines Metro Opera’s Wozzeck left the audience feeling raw and exposed… The performance exhumed emotions that we usually avoid, but afterwards, everyone couldn’t stop talking about it. And isn’t that what art is all about - to make us think and get a dialogue going? Berg’s opera challenges us as an audience musically and emotionally, and I loved every unsettling minute of it."

-Meghan Klinkenborg,

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"a no-holds-barred production of Berg’s expressionist Wozzeck directed by Kristine McIntyre . . . we became aware of McIntyre’s stealthy direction and sensibility: What had begun as a small-scale, almost manageable set of conflicts begins to unravel into an out-of-control spinning wheel of increasing centrifugal force. Wozzeck suffers terrifying nightmares, which Kate Ashton conveys with jolting lighting shifts. Now and then a group of mysterious, shadowy figures (which are lit so that you can barely make them out) move noiselessly about the stage. As McIntyre injects more mystery at every turn, we feel we’re moving toward an inexorable downward slide that we don’t know how to decelerate. . .

Mayes conveys Wozzeck’s herky-jerky, frenzied paranoia with amazing naturalness. (Wozzeck is perhaps mentally ill, yes, but he has also been driven out of his mind by drugs and by harrowing experiments courtesy of the sinister Doctor, played harrowingly by Zachary James.) Mayes also manages, miraculously, to pull off something that few artists have achieved: Instead of barking the dialogue, he actually sings it. And we quickly realize that Wozzeck’s words sound grislier when presented as beautifully sung “melody.” (How comically disconcerting it is, for instance, to hear an opera singer with such a deliciously hued baritone sing, after being accused of relieving himself on the street: “But Doctor, when nature calls…?”) . . .

In any event this surely stands as one of DMMO’s finest moments, and if you can catch one of the remaining three performances, you certainly should."

-Paul Horsley, The Independent (Kansas City)

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