Independent Online, April 8 2014
|By Paul Boekkooi
Massenet: Werther, Metropolitan Opera, 15. März 2014 (cinema)
Opera a rare artistic trump card
Jules Massenet’s opera Werther is arguably the Frenchman’s
masterpiece. It’s all the more stirring in this new Metropolitan Opera
Dramatically, the renowned British theatrical
magician Sir Richard Eyre – a director working in multi-disciplines –
solidly focuses on interpersonal relationships in this discreet love story
layered with semi-religious eroticism and forlorn hope.
Having seen a
staging of it in the Royal Opera House, London, in 1987 and experiencing it
now on HD film, firmly confirms that it is musically and dramatically more
rewarding than Manon or any of Massenet’s other operas.
of the poor, clingy poet Werther may not evoke an instant response from an
age not much taken with such romantic fables, but Massenet believed in
Goethe’s hero and heroine and gives them both, plus the orchestra, music
surging with passion, with tender and brooding attributes. In other words:
the agony is every bit as enjoyable as the ecstasy.
Because of the
phonetic richness of the French language, it offers any international cast
great opportunities to discover new sounds and voice colourings. Here the
cast as a whole succeed to be very respectful to the French style, to the
delicately judged shape of the vocal lines, without ever taking the fire out
of the music.
In this regard the French-Armenian Alain Altinoglu
conducts a sensitive, warmly expressive but also sharply characterful
He also knows how to thrust home an important climax, as
well as creating evocative textures and varying tensions positively. His
fearless and nuanced leadership demonstrated how effectively Massenet tells
Goethe’s story in musical terms.
The crowning glory of this Werther
is above all else focused on the singing. After many performances of the
title role in international opera houses, the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann is
now fully under the poet’s skin.
Combining vocal purity, controlled
sweetness and strength, his portrayal of the desperate, lovelorn personality
flows naturally from these qualities as well as his obedience to the
composer’s numerous markings.
The tenor’s showstopper, Pourquoi Me
Révellier, ô Soufflé du Printemps? (Why wake me, Spring?) was the most
heart-rending vocal contribution to this staging.
It also detonates
the duet that follows with Charlotte (the French mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch)
in which she tries to flee from Werther’s hold on her. Both in Acts 3 and 4
their vocal interactions hardly have a parallel in previous sound or video
recordings of this work.
Koch might look a bit old for the part, but
her warm and attractive vocal contribution is dramatically seconded by
Charlotte’s conflicting emotions which she conveys in her body language and
expressions. She rises with splendour to the many demands of Act 3 (three
arias in a row!), building up a wealth of inner tension before Werther
The Cuban-American soprano Lisette Oropesa sings
the role of Charlotte’s younger sister, Sophie, with great charm and
Her clear soubrette voice has a solid core. As Alfred,
Charlotte’s military husband with a conventional stuffy rectitude, the
Serbian-Israeli bass provides us with an impressive Met debut performance.
Jonathan Summers as the Bailiff, Charlotte’s father, opens the opera
Design and choreography enhanced the visual aspects of
this Werther spectacularly, especially Wandall Harrington’s video design
during the Clair de lune (Moonlight) scene of Act 1 which is magical.
A backdrop starts revolving during a ball scene, following and emulating
the dancing couples.
The claustrophobic final scene – the tiny room
which is slowly shifted forward to centre stage and from which the poet
escapes through suicide – was a clever touch in a production filled with
many of them.
Screening at all Cinema Nouveau and selected