The voice of Berg's Wozzeck has been characterized by his Sprechgesang, heard as manifestation of his abnormality or even ‘hysteria’. However, Wozzeck often sounds more lyrical and emotive in relation to his oppressors, whose sense of authority is undermined by their caricatured vocal lines and vocal types. Rather than representing a ‘broken’ voice, Wozzeck's Sprechgesang is reserved for moments shared with his fellow low-ranking comrades, suggesting that it served as a voice of solidarity and empathy. In this article, I historicize the première of the opera at the Berlin State Opera; indeed, a glance at the singers who played the central roles suggests how the characters were perceived. It reveals an intertextual web of suffering shared between Berg's traumatized soldiers, and the perverse exercise of authority. Wozzeck therefore opens up questions about the expression of ideals in post-First World War Germany: the ideal of a stoic man demanded by the army, and the ideal of a voice.