Gramophone, February 2011
John Steane

Jonas Kaufmann is a true Werther original but deserves a better setting
It is the old, modern story: a good musical performance and bad stage production. The trouble is that this is a DVD, so the visual element is of particular importance.

Briefly, most of the opera is played in tenebris. The set for Act 1 is in fact quite visible enough: one does not want to see more because it is unsightly. There is a piece of fine irony when Werther enters, expressing his enchantment with the place and exclaiming that it embodies all the beauties of nature. There is, of course, hardly anything of nature in view. Act 2 should, I seem to recollect, depict a small town on a Sunday morning, with church, pub and other items typical of a semi-rural setting. This has become a barren, windswept stage under a sullen, unchanging sky.

Acts 3 and 4 are too dark for one to be very sure of anything, and I suppose it may be said that Werther's haggard expression and bloodstained shift are made clear enough and that they are what matter most. Occasionally there is an effect of light beautifully irrradiating the face of Charlotte or Sophie. The movement of characters is not happily managed and the treatment of the tipsy Bacchus-idolaters is heavy-handed. No, I don't like any of it.

Kaufmann's singing, on the other hand, is rich and often extremely beautiful. Sophie Koch, a few uneven phrases notwithstanding, is a touching and dignified Charlotte. The Sophie and Albert, Anne-Catherine Gillet and Ludovic Tézier, are uncommonly good singers, the latter a cypher as to character, the former natural and charming. I don't altogether admire Michel Plasson's conducting (too much is allowed to drag, which with this production is the last thing wanted), but the playing is thoughtful and intense, and every care is taken over detail. In particular, Kaufmann's work is sufficiently remarkable for it to deserve (like his Lobengrin) in the near future a more worthy setting.


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