The Epoch Times, February 24, 2014
|By Barry Bassis
Massenet: Werther, Metropolitan Opera, 18. Februar 2014
Jonas Kaufmann is the Ultimate Romantic Hero as Werther at the Met
Jules Massenet’s “Werther” has returned to the Metropolitan Opera in a new production directed by Richard Eyre. The opera is based Goethe’s novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther” and while the lead character may suffer, the audience is fascinated by the tenor playing the title role: Jonas Kaufmann.
Jules Massenet’s “Werther” has returned to the Metropolitan Opera in a new
production directed by Richard Eyre. The opera is based Goethe’s novel “The
Sorrows of Young Werther” and while the lead character may suffer, the
audience is fascinated by the tenor playing the title role: Jonas Kaufmann.
Eyre makes some changes to the opera that do not detract from the impact
of the work. First, he changes the time period from the late 18thto the late
19th century, basically moving it into the period when Massenet wrote the
opera. Second, the director adds action during the playing of the overture:
a mother dies and her family mourns her, after which winter turns into
spring. The latter effect is achieved through Wedall K. Harrington’s
imaginative video projections, which are especially effective in the first
act. The sets and costumes are by Rob Howell.
In Act I, it is
revealed that the woman who died was the Bailiff’s wife and his eldest
daughter, Charlotte, is taking care of the other children. Although it is
early July, the family is rehearsing a Christmas carol. A couple of the
Bailiff’s friends arrive and they discuss Werther, a young poet who is going
to accompany Charlotte to a ball later that day. The title character arrives
and extolls the beauty of nature. He then meets his date and she leaves the
children in the care of her 15 year old sister Sophie. After Charlotte and
Werther depart for the ball, Charlotte’s fiancé Albert arrives.
the time the ball is over, the impressionable poet is smitten and Charlotte
seems to feel the same way. However, when they are about to kiss, the
Bailiff yells out that Albert is there. The young woman admits that she had
promised her dying mother that she would marry Albert.
second act begins, Charlotte and Albert have been married for three years.
Werther and Albert maintain a cordial relationship. Nevertheless, the poet
keeps pursuing Charlotte and brushes off Sophie when she asks him to dance
with her. When he confronts Charlotte, she urges him to leave town until
Christmas. He does so but Sophie spills the beans to Albert, letting him
know that Werther is still in love with his wife.
The third act takes
place on Christmas eve. Charlotte is re-reading Werther’s letters to her and
realizes that she reciprocates his feelings. He appears and they have a
turbulent scene together, at the culmination of which he kisses her. She
pulls away and again orders him to leave. Albert shows up and figures out
what has been going on. A servant brings a note from Werther asking to
borrow Albert’s pistols to take with him on a journey. Albert orders his
wife to comply with the poet’s request, a sign that the husband is not as
sympathetic as he seemed earlier.
Werther, distraught in his room,
shoots himself in the chest (done realistically with blood bursting from his
body onto the wall behind him).
In the last act, Charlotte arrives to
discover the poet is dying. She admits her love for him and he dies in her
arms as children are eerily singing Christmas carols outside.
any production of the opera is the casting of the manic-depressive title
character. The Met has Kaufmann, who is a contender as the leading tenor of
our time. He looks the part of a young romantic poet and sings in exquisite
taste, with a variety of vocal effects that are not aimed at showboating but
on conveying the character’s emotions. His voice may be darker than those
who usually sing the part (such as Alfredo Kraus, the last Werther I saw at
the Met) but he is extraordinarily effective. The highlight of the evening
was his rendition of the famous aria, “Pourquoi me reveiller.”
Originally, Elīna Garanča was scheduled to appear as Charlotte but she had
to bow out because of her pregnancy. The Met was lucky to replace her with
French mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch, who had performed the role to acclaim with
Kaufmann at the Paris Opera in 2010. This is her impressive house debut.
Koch is affecting in the part and gives a tour de force performance of the
Letter Scene (like Tatiana’s similar one in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin”
except that Sophie is reading passionate letters to her rather than writing
one to the man she loves).
Soprano Lisette Oropesa is so charming as
Charlotte’s sister Sophie that one wonders why the poet fails to respond to
her apparent interest. Bass David Bizic is a convincing, vocally suave
Albert. The excellent Met orchestra is led by Alain Altinoglu.
“Werther” is running at the Metropolitan Opera intermittently through March
15th (212-362-6000, metopera.org). The Met: Live in HD presentation will be
shown in theaters worldwide on Saturday, March 15 at 12:55 PM ET. This is
one production that may be even more compelling on the screen because of the
fact that the cast visually fits the parts and the subtle acting should
benefit from close-ups.