Opera Profile: ‘Wozzeck,’ Alban Berg’s Masterpiece

By David Salazar
(Credit: Ruth Walz / Salzburg Festival)

Based on the play by George Büchner, Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck” is widely considered one of the great operas of all-time.

He conceived of it in 1914 and would eventually finish in 1922. It would receive its world premiere on Dec. 14, 1925. He adapted the libretto himself, creating a work that features numerous shorter scenes. The work had an amazing success after its premiere and remains a fixture of the standard repertoire. It did suffer somewhat under the Nazi regime, which saw it as “Decadent art,” but the work would regain its stature thereafter.

Short Plot Summary

Wozzeck has discussions with a Captain over his decency when he is called indecent for having a child “without the blessing of the church.”

Marie is taunted for flirting with soldiers and sings a lullaby to her son. Wozzeck comes by and tells her he has had terrible visions. She leaves without seeing her son.

Wozzeck is ridiculed by a doctor while Marie succumbs to the advances of a Drum Major. Wozzeck learns of her infidelity toward him, but she repeatedly denies it, even when he tries to hit her. Wozzeck eventually gets into a fight with the Drum Major.

Wozzeck ultimately murders Marie out of jealousy and then commits suicide when trying to throw the murder weapon into the sea.

Watch and Listen

Here is a production of the opera featuring Hildegard Behrens, Franz Grundheber, and Philip Landgridge.


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