Huffington Post, 02/26/2014
Massenet: Werther, Metropolitan Opera, 18. Februar 2014
Met Opera: A Fresh Look at Doomed Love in Massenet's "Werther"
The love that burns with the brightest flame is often a love that is fated
to fail, and the passion Massenet kindled in his opera Werther is about as
doomed as any love can be, as Richard Eyre's dramatic new production at the
Metropolitan Opera makes abundantly clear from the opening notes.
With the popular German tenor Jonas Kaufmann singing the title role and the
French mezzo Sophie Koch delivering a lovely Met debut as Charlotte, the Met
has given Massenet's romantic opera, based on Goethe's youthful epistolary
novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, a fresh staging that employs imaginative
use of video to set scenes and convey moods that are usually found only on
the printed page.
It is a production that audiences around the world
will be able to see on March 15 when the Met performs it as part of its Live
in HD series via a simulcast to some 1,900 theaters in 64 countries.
If it is a general rule of thumb in opera that things will end badly for the
soprano, Werther is one of the exceptions in that it's the tenor who
succumbs at the end. Goethe's short novel, written when he was 24 and based
on a personal experience, is told in the form of letters a young poet,
escaping the bustle of city to the bucolic joys of the country, writes to a
friend back home. Only at the end, after the hero decides life is not worth
living without the woman he loves and cannot have, does a narrator take over
the story. It made Goethe famous and spawned an early 19th-century fad that
became known as "Wertherism."
Massenet's sweeping music sets the mood
for Werther's self-absorbed melancholy, especially the lyrical opening act
tenor aria "Je ne sais si je veille," a sort of 18th-century tree-hugger's
paean to Nature. Then Charlotte enters and he's head over heels for her at
first sight. The only hitch is that she's already engaged to Alfred, and
promised her mother on her deathbed that she would marry him.
primarily known for his work in the theater and a former director of
Britain's National Theatre, belongs to the school that calls for some
movement onstage, even the operatic stage, at all times.
In the new
Met production, Eyre uses video and live action to create a series of
tableaux during the Prelude that begins with the proscenium framed as a
Christmas card, then shows Charlotte's mother's death, and the funeral
procession to the cemetery where a flock of huge black birds swoop in and
look down on her grave from tree branches. It's the sort of beginning that
can only end in tragedy.
Again using video created by Wendall K.
Harrington, he marks the passage of seasons from winter to summer and
transforms Charlotte's garden into a ballroom for her and Werther to waltz
together, then back again to a garden. It's all masterfully done and
enhances an opera in which there is little action apart from hand-wringing
Kaufmann, a big Met favorite from his performance in Parsifal
last season, certainly looks the part of a handsome young poet. In the
opening acts he tends to emphasize the aloof and detached, almost wimpy,
side of Werther, and sings as though he is holding something back. But he
seems to become more resolute as Werther's death wish begins to take hold.
His voice is strong and rich, though somewhat forced at the top, and his big
third-act aria, "Pourquoi me reveiller," brought the house down.
Koch, who has sung Charlotte in Paris, Vienna, Madrid, London, and Chicago,
is a portrait of tortured indecision, unable to reconcile her repressed love
for Werther with her promise to her dying mother and her dutiful obligations
to her husband Alfred. She has a clear voice that can soar to thrilling
heights and her own third-act aria, "Va! Laisse couler mes larmes," as she
re-reads Werther's letters, is thrilling. Her final act death scene with
Kaufmann is gripping.
As Alfred, the Serbian basso David Bizic gives
an impressive Met debut performance, and the soprano Lisette Oropesa, a Met
regular, sings Charlotte's sister Sophie with great charm. Alain Altinoglu
leads the Met orchestra in a measured reading of the score that brings out
all the Romanticism of both Goethe and Massenet.