musicOMH, 15 March 2014
by Melanie Eskenazi
Massenet: Werther, Metropolitan Opera, 15. März 2014
Werther – The Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD
Ah, here we are again. Come interval time, the ‘live’ Met audience gets to go out and have a snack / drinks / quiet sob or whatever, for 40 minutes – meanwhile, here in London at the IMAX, we are allowed 20 minutes – it takes 5-7 just to get down the 4 flights of steps – and then are herded back in, with threats of being shut out if we don’t return in time. What for? To spend twenty minutes watching inane interviews and what felt like a very long plug for the next showing; if I want to see that, I’ll come and do so, I don’t need to be ‘sold’ it, and neither did anyone else around me. Rant over.

Since we are unlikely to get this casting in London, it was clearly worth going, and at least we did not have to put up with a sound failure during the final seven minutes, as most U.S. cinema audiences apparently did. Jonas Kaufmann is today’s leading Werther, just as he is Parsifal, Cavaradossi, Carlos, Faust, Siegmund… and will probably soon leave every other tenor’s Otello in the dust. Is he that remarkable? Well, yes, and his smouldering good looks are the least of it. It’s the voice, stupid, and the interpretation, and the French diction which makes even native speakers sound woolly. ‘Ô Nature’ and ‘Pourquoi me réveiller’ were both absolutely stunning, the grandiose climaxes thrillingly taken and held, the quiet phrases searching in their intensity. Nothing else in the performance matched his singing. He gives his all in terms of acting, too, and when you hear those hushed tones at ‘A cette heure suprême’ you don’t actually want him to die just yet – I do quite often find myself wishing Werther would get on with it.

Sophie Koch has had a very successful European career and this was her house debut. Her mezzo is big, loud and rich, and she looks statuesque. She left me totally unmoved. Even during ‘Va! Laisse couler mes larmes’ I found her singing impeccable yet detached. It was impossible not to warm to the Sophie of Lisette Oropesa, who was almost too winsome, and the genial, nobly sung Albert of David Bišić. Jonathan Summers was a sympathetic Bailiff, and the Met orchestra, now at its absolute peak, was authoritatively conducted by Alain Altinoglu.

As might be expected, the production was ‘stagey,’ but Rob Howell’s sets and designs fitted well with Richard Eyre’s concept of the piece; there was little to move to tears, but a lot to savour. This was a mostly traditional concept, the freshness of nature contrasting with the oppressiveness of Charlotte’s married home, yet there was a feeling of the contemporary in such aspects as the dislocated walls of the family house and the use of video projections to show the passing of the seasons. A pleasing union of past and present came with Werther’s garret, seen first almost as the kind of ‘light box’ beloved of the 18th century and then as a fully ‘opened-out’ setting for the (more than usually gory) death.

If you missed it this time around you can catch it again at the ‘encore’ showing on March 30th. Next up in the series is La bohème on April 5th, Così fan tutte on April 24th, and La Cenerentola on May 10th, the last featuring the Rossini ‘dream team’ of Joyce di Donato and Juan Diego Flórez.

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