Woyzeck, a new opera by Robert Wilson and Tom Waits based on the Georg Büchner play, just debuted at the Théâtre de l'Europe in Paris. Those familiar with the famous twentieth century opera (music by Alban Berg of the second Viennese school) should treat themselves to this very different rendition.

Plot Summary

Woyzeck is a poor, lower class soldier with a compagnon and young son that he has not the money to support. He sells his body to science and works extraordinary hours, subsisting on a diet of peas to satisfy the Doctor (only the poor have names in the play, the well-to-do have titles).

The Captain thinks Woyzeck is stupid and amoral, largely because of his class. He abuses Woyzeck and eventually informs him that his woman is having an affair with a parade-ground peacock called The Drum Major (unlike in Othello, it’s true). He ultimately slits her throat and drowns himself, leaving his young son to grow up alone.

M. Büchner wrote Woyzeck in the 1830’s, providing modern literature with one of its first anti-heroes. This is the portrait of a decent man who descends into madness and murder, another demonstration of the Juvenal quote, “No man ever became extremely wicked all at once.”


M. Wilson provides gorgeous minimalist modern sets with stunning use of color; every tableux is like a Mark Rothko painting in motion. M. Waits rises to his usual standards of excellent song-craft. It’s an altogether fine production that you should make every effort to see.

Update (2003/12)

It was as great in Brooklyn as it was in Paris. The original cast is intact for the world tour, next stop in Los Angeles. Go.

This entry is part of my journal, published December 9, 2001, in Paris.