"If any further proof were needed that Des Moines Metro Opera is at the forefront of operatic excellence in America, their theatrically searing, musically impeccable Wozzeck would cement this assertion. I am happy to report that although I have only ever seen good productions worldwide of this challenging Alban Berg opus, I had to come to Indianola, Iowa to see the very best. This mesmerizing performance would be at home on any world stage, and the reasons are many.
In the title role, triumphantly singing torturously difficult music, Michael Mayes is nigh unto perfection. He is possessed of a ringing, freely produced baritone of uncommon power and beauty and he knows exactly how to deploy it in service of this demanding score. The rangy leaps, the emotional shifts, the sudden outbursts of Sprechstimme, the complex harmonies, none of this holds any terror for a singing actor at the top of his game.
Mr. Mayes is as fine an actor as you will find on any stage, and his deeply personalized account of the character’s inexorable descent as he unraveled into violence was riveting. He winced, he gasped, he wept, he shuddered, he mourned, he snapped, he writhed, he trembled, and he prowled the premises, all the while creating a nuanced, unsettling portrait of an unstable human being decidedly ill-treated by his fellow man. Mayes infused the character with so much pitiable humanity, that in the end he was not so much killer, as killed by those in his sphere. His was a stunning achievement.
Every bit his equal, Sara Gartland was a revelatory Marie. Her gleaming soprano brought much lyric beauty to the role, and her limpid vocalizing evoked significant sympathy for her joyless existence. Ms. Gartland also found sufficient full-bodied brass in her tone for the scripted shrewish angry outbursts, as well as suitably lustful overtones for her hedonistic inclinations.
Her dramatic depiction of the conflicted character skillfully vacillated between her understandably dwindling attraction to Wozzeck, her bastard child’s father, and her uncontained lust for money and emotional support. Since her only asset in life is her alluring sensuality (and Sara is a beautiful woman indeed) she must use it judiciously to get what she needs to survive. Hers was an impeccably sung, richly complex portrayal. . .
Robert Watson could hardly have been better as the preening, savage Drum Major. Mr. Watson is possessed of a laser-focused tenor of astonishing amplitude and color that was a fortuitous fit for the testosterone-driven, assault prone ne’er-do-well. . .
In equal partnership, director Kristine McIntyre has once again brought soul-stirring inspiration and clarity of purpose to a very difficult piece. I think I ran out of superlatives to describe her artistic accomplishments two reviews ago, but suffice it to say this nonpareil version of Wozzeck has not only met her own very high standards, but has raised her own bar one notch higher.
The design team has abetted Ms. McIntyre with a jittery, spectacularly skewed milieu that visually matched the instability of the protagonist’s mind. . .
But it was Ms. McIntyre that successfully pulled this unified vision together and invested it with her customary passion and intelligence. Never have I been so engrossed by the journey all of these personages are making. Part of that is owing to the beauty of the proximity to the stage in the Blank Performing Arts Center. But it was the masterful director who ensured to a person, the characters on the stage were committed, honest, and compellingly believable.
Lustrous musical effects, meaningful character interaction, world class singing and playing, heart-stopping intimacy, a masterpiece vividly brought most impactfully to life – where else but Des Moines Metro Opera?"
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