Wozzeck - Synopsis

Wozzeck: Simon Keenlyside, Wolfgang Schmidt Wozzeck: Simon Keenlyside Wozzeck: Simon Keenlyside, Clive Bayley


Alban Berg
Alban Berg after Georg Büchner


Act One

The Captain’s room. Early morning. Wozzeck is shaving the captain. The captain tells Wozzeck not to be in such a dreadful hurry and forces him to make conversation: he complains about the terrific pace of progress in the world, philosphizes about Eternity, chats about the weather. He teases Wozzeck without allowing him time to respond. Finally he touches a sore spot: he starts to talk about morals and Wozzeck’s illegitimate child. Wozzeck defends himself, pointing out his situation: only the rich can afford morality, he is hopelessly on the losing side.

An open field. Late Afternoon. Wozzeck and his friend Andres are working, cutting switches for the major outside of the town at sundown. Wozzeck finds it difficult to concentrate on what he is doing. He has visions and hears voices and cannot make out what is happening. Andres tries to rid Wozzeck of his fears by singing funny songs. Wozzeck is convinced the heavens and the earth are on fire.

Marie’s room. Evening. Soldiers are passing outside in the street. Marie, the mother of Wozzeck’s child, is excited by the military marching music and cannot take her eyes off the drum major. Margret, a neighbour, notices how much Marie admires the man. She shakes Marie out of her dream with malicious comments. Marie begins to sing a lullaby to her child and dreams of love. Wozzeck comes in, but has to leave again immediately. He tries to tell Marie about his visions, but she cannot understand him. Wozzeck rushes away, leaving Marie in the dark.

The doctor’s study. Sunny afternoon. The doctor is dissatisfied with Wozzeck because he has not been able to stop himself from urinating. The doctor needs Wozzeck’s urine for one of his many experiments, which he hopes will one day make him famous. He gives Wozzeck, his guinea-pig, some money. Wozzeck excuses himself, referring to the call of nature. The doctor declares the victory of reason and will power over nature. Wozzeck tells the doctor about his fears: all he can think about is Marie and how he might lose her and that everything seems to be coming to an end. The doctor does not understand him. He suggests that Wozzeck is displaying symptoms of lunacy.

The street outside Marie’s house. Dusk. Marie, who can no longer bear her loneliness and her longings, gets involved with the drum major. She flirts with him, repulses him, but in the end  suppresses her misgivings and goes to bed with him.

Act Two

Marie's room. Morning, sunshine. Standing in front of the mirror, Marie admires the earrings the drum major has given her. The glittering jewels makes her feel like a woman of the world. Her child watches her. Marie frightens the child because he does not want to go to sleep. Wozzeck arrives unexpectedly. He sees the new earrings, although Marie tries to hide them. He is suspicious and asks questions which Marie answers evasively. Wozzeck hands Marie his wages as usual, and the money he has earned from the doctor and the captain, and leaves her with a bad conscience about her infidelity.

A street in town. During the day. While out walking the captain meets the doctor, who is hurrying to visit one of his many dying patients. The captain stops the doctor and starts lecturing him and the doctor has his revenge by starting to talk about death. He tells the captain that he is in a dire state of health and warns him that he will probably fall victim to a dreadful illness. The captain begins to feel ill. When Wozzeck joins them, they both take a delight in tormenting him with innuendo about Marie’s infidelity. Wozzeck has no idea what they are talking about at first but it soon becomes clear to him what they are saying. The ground is swept away beneath his feet. He rushes off in despair.

The street in front of Marie’s house. Cloudy day. Wozzeck bombards Marie with questions. He wants to know the truth about her relationship with the drum major. Marie claims that her conscience is clear. When Wozzeck makes as if to strike her she defends herself: „Better a knife blade in my body than lay a hand on me.”  She goes into the house, leaving Wozzeck in a daze.

The garden of an inn. Late evening. Marie meets the drum major. Everyone is drinking and dancing, only Wozzeck sits alone in the background, staring at Marie, who seems to have become a complete stranger. Two drunk men are philosophizing about life. Wozzeck wishes the world would come to an end. Andres tries to engage Wozzeck in conversation but cannot share his dark thoughts. When Wozzeck tries to rush on to the dance floor to go between Marie and the drum major, he is held back. A idiot approaches and prophesies a bloody end for Wozzeck.

The guard-room at the barracks. Night. After the last dances, Wozzeck is lying in the barracks and cannot sleep, the music still seems to be playing in his ears. He is obsessed with the picture of Marie in the arms of the drum major. Even saying a prayer does not help. The drum major appears in reality: he is drunk and boasts to Wozzeck of his manliness and Marie’s charms, which he has enjoyed. He then beats Wozzeck. The others look on.

Act Three

Marie's room. It's night. Marie is plagued by feelings of guilt and seeks an answer in the Bible. Marie is afraid of the way her child is looking at her. She tells him a fairy-tale about the end of the world, but the child does not want to hear any more fairy-tales. Marie begs the Saviour for forgiveness and continues to wait for Wozzeck, who has not been home for several days.

A path by a pond in the woods. Dawn. A couple is out for a stroll at night. Wozzeck approaches the pond with Marie. It is cold and Marie wants to go home. Because he cannot stop her, Wozzeck stabs Marie with a knife.

An inn. Night. Wozzeck flees to an inn. He tries to warm himself with Margret, he wants to drink and sing and forget. Margret discovers blood on Wozzeck’s hands. Everyone sees the blood and now Wozzeck can no longer overlook it and flees.

A path by the pond in the woods. Moonlit night. Wozzeck, who cannot forget Marie, returns to the pond. The water does not cleanse him of his guilt; everything seems to be swimming in blood. Wozzeck looks for the knife and finds it. He throws it further out into the pond. Wozzeck goes down. The doctor and the captain, who are quite close, hear a shout and a groan. A cold shudder runs down the captain’s back. The doctor certifies a death. Both go on their way quickly.

In front of Marie’s house. Morning, sunshine. Children are playing. Among the children playing in the street is Wozzeck and Marie‘s son. A couple of children appear with the latest news. Marie’s body has been discovered. The curious children run to the pond to see the dead body. Wozzeck’s son is left alone.