Concertonet, 5 February 2011
Christian Dalzon
Jules Massenet: Werther

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.

Making 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 impeccable.
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 musicality.

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 repertoire.


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