Wozzeck, with its adventurous approach to harmony and intricate musical textures, overflows with challenges for its performers, not least the conductor. But along with these hurdles come an equal abundance of expressive potential and musical details to explore—an opportunity embraced by Met Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who has been enthusiastically looking forward to working on Wozzeck with the company’s orchestra and chorus. “It’s a score that is close to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in terms of architecture and complexity,” says Nézet-Séguin, offering the highest possible praise.
Berg’s music, in fact, reveals some direct connections to Bach’s 18th-century style, incorporating musical forms of the time—such as the suite, passacaglia, and fugue—and fusing them seamlessly with his distinctly 20th-century voice. But as in the St. Matthew Passion, all of these sophisticated forms and devices are used in the pursuit of dramatic effect, delivering, as Nézet-Séguin describes it, “devastating emotional impact.”
There is also much for the maestro to dig into with his principal cast. “The lines are often in sprechstimme, halfway between singing and speech, but there is also a lot of lyricism in the piece,” Nézet-Séguin explains. He says it can be difficult to find the right balance of those styles, but he is confident in his leading couple: baritone Peter Mattei and soprano Elza van den Heever. “They are some of the great genius singers of our time, and they have this intellectual approach to their work, which in the end becomes so powerfully expressive,” he says. “They have both the head and the heart for this piece.”