When this Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 2004 production
of Werther opened in January 2010 at the Opéra national de
Paris, it caused quite a swooning stir in the operatic
microcosm. Although it has been described as "dark and boring"
(it is indeed, a little slow and static in the first two acts),
Benoît Jacquot's direction is stylish, straightforward, sharp,
eerie in Act 3, with pertinent focus on the unfolding drama.
And the singing cast is outstanding.
his role debut, Jonas Kaufmann is a dream Werther, in the
tradition of the Thill, Lance, and Kraus. Naturally confident
and authoritative, without a hint of wimpish sentimentality, an
outstanding command of the French language, the German tenor is
deeply concerned by singing a role, more than creating vocal
moods. Remarkably introspective, his Werther stays away from
Goethe's highly emotional and self-pitying hero. Kaufmann's
dark, musky tenor, easy top register, wide palette of tonal
shadings, and confounding ability to sustain the long phrases,
are literally amazing.
Opposite the German
tenor, French mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch has established a
commendable reputation in all major opera houses. Her Charlotte
is chiseled with superior subtlety. In the part of the
unattainable, genuinely innocent and troubled woman, Koch
delivers a brilliant performance, always moving with ease and
grace on the stage. The timbre is full, warm, and enunciation
French baritone Ludovic Thézier, who was in the
Royal Opera House production in 2004, is a mesmerizing Albert,
manly, menacing, with a rich mahogany baritone and laudable
Anne-Catherine Gillet (Sophie) and Alain
Vernhes (Bailli) admirably honor the French style and diction.
Michel Plasson, currently musical director of the Dresden
Philharmonic, is a highly praised conductor. Despite his
international fame (the result of numerous and excellent
recordings he has coined, and the most prestigious orchestras he
has conducted), Plasson had not been invited at the Paris
National Opera since the World Premiere of Marcel Landowski's
Montségur in 1987. No man is a prophet in his own country. This
masterful rendition of Massenet's score demonstrates yet another
time Plasson's ability to capture the essence of the French