New York Observer, 2/25/2014
By James Jorden
Massenet: Werther, Metropolitan Opera, 18. Februar 2014
...But the Met’s Werther is D.O.A.
...Would that some of LoftOpera’s pixie dust had rubbed off on a new production of Massenet’s Werther that limped into the Met Feb. 18. Compared to La Bohème, it’s an uneven work, two weak undramatic acts followed by two that are both theatrically gripping and filled with rich melody. The opera’s virtues, however gentle, deserve a better frame than Richard Eyre’s fusty, fussy staging and Alain Altinoglu’s noisy, lurching musical direction.

The singing, too, was problematic. This Werther is a vehicle for superstar Jonas Kaufmann, who was in frustrating form opening night. He is indubitably a star, so magnetic that his first appearance onstage won a burst of applause from the audience, and the voice is absolutely world class, distinctively dark and powerful. But as in last season’s Parsifal, Mr. Kaufmann sometimes sings so softly he can hardly be heard for minutes at a time; it sounds as if he is performing only for himself. When he pulls the stops out, as in a passionate reading of the third act lament “Pourquoi me réveiller,” the effect is electrifying, but you can’t help thinking: Where has this voice been all night?

Mr. Kaufmann wasn’t helped by Mr. Eyre’s staging, which pointlessly updates the action from the proto-Romantic “Sturm und Drang” era of the 1780s to circa 1900, when the hero’s brand of morbid sensitivity would read as decadence rather than idealism. Designer Rob Howell enveloped the tenor in an ill-fitting black trench coat that hung around his slim, broad-shouldered frame like a woolen muumuu. Mr. Eyre seemingly directed him to play Werther glum and introverted, which in combination with his undersinging left the character practically invisible.

Curiously, Sophie Koch, as Charlotte, the demure married woman Werther adores, played the drama queen in her Met debut, twirling onstage for her first entrance like an operetta diva and then carrying on in the second half of the opera as if she were doing Didon’s death scene from Les Troyens. In further contrast to Mr. Kaufmann, she tended to push her voice, so the cool, elegant timbre somtimes turned hard and blowsy.

Another debuting artist, baritone David Bizic, made a strong impression in the thankless role of Charlotte’s husband, Albert, his voice crisp and colorful. Even costumed as Anne of Green Gables, soprano Lisette Oropesa shimmered as Charlotte’s little sister, Sophie, her light soprano darting like a starling though her tiny arias.

I could go on about what was wrong with this Werther: the irrelevant, distracting video projections that looked like opening credits for a Lifetime movie or the bizarre set for the first two acts that looked like an explosion in a picture frame factory. But what’s the point? This Werther is dead on arrival. If you’re looking for McCourt’s “hints of a promise,” check out the Met’s Prince Igor—or make the trek to Bushwick.

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