Wall Street Journal, Jan. 22, 2010
Judy Fayard
Massenet: Werther, Paris, 14. Januar 2010
Romantic Brilliance at the Bastille Opera
 Paris: Goethe's novel "The Sorrows of Young Werther" was already a century-old icon of the Romantic movement when French composer Jules Massenet used it as the basis for his 1892 opera "Werther," which has remained a staple of the international repertory ever since. The production that opened at the Opéra Bastille last week isn't new either -- it was originally staged by French film director Benoît Jacquot at London's Covent Garden in 2004.

But the old operatic warhorse has been given a brilliant new life in this Paris presentation by a superb roster of singers. From German star tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the title role to the sweet children's chorus that opens and closes the passionate tragedy, the cast is a nearly faultless ensemble: Mr. Kaufmann is almost typecast as the handsome Werther, hopelessly in love with another man's wife, his dark, brooding, physically charged presence matched by his deep, coppery, nearly baritone timbre, whether at full volume or floating a soft note like a whisper. French mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch is a lithe and lovely Charlotte, bound by a vow to marry the upstanding Albert but realizing the depth of her own feelings for Werther. With her limpid voice in full bloom, her performance is every bit Kaufmann's equal. French baritone Ludovic Tézier (who elsewhere has also sung the role of Werther in Massenet's rewritten-for-baritone version) reprises his Covent Garden role as a strong and elegant Albert, easily giving Werther a run for his money as a Romantic hero.

The secondary roles such as veteran French baritone Alain Vernhes as Charlotte's father the Bailiff or French soprano Anne-Catherine Gillet as younger sister Sophie are just as well played and sung. And if most of the sets are surprisingly amateurish, the wonderful third-act interior, inspired by the late 19th-century Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi, is an unexpected gem.

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