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Werther of my dreams
on 17 December 2010
I love all (well, most) operas, French operas in particular, and Massenet is one of my favourite composers. I have lots of CDs, and several DVDs of his operas. Among the latter, two give me particular pleasure. There's 'Manon' from Barcelona, with Dessay and Villazon, lovely production which I remember from ENO years ago. Now there's this 'Werther' from Paris. The title role has to be performed by a tenor with almost Wagnerian resources, and really should convince us in his appearance and acting that he IS the passionate, almost neurotic young dreamer of the libretto. On CD this latter requirement can be forgotten, but on stage, no. Here Jonas Kaufmann really scores, being young-looking (he's 40),utterly Romantic, in the literary sense, and with a voice capable of fully realising Massenet's intentions for the role. In addition, his French is pretty good, and he acts the part without recourse to sobs, undue gesture or vocal distortion. Truly the werther of one's dreams.
Sophie Koch also convinces as Charlotte, though in close-up her grimaces are sometimes off-putting. Being French,despite her Germanic surname,she articulates the text meaningfully, and always sings with accuracy and feeling for the music; this is a distinguishes performance. I was happy to find Ludovic Tezier as Albert, he's one of the best French singers today. The others are fine, though in close-up, Sophie looks older than Charlotte.
Any grumbles? Only minor ones. All the men except Werther wear knee-breeches, but Werther has anticipated the 1798 Revolution's influence and sports trousers - more Byronic, I suppose. The big annoyance is the producer's habit of showing the singers in the wings as they prepare to enter, or after their exit. Not only does this spoil some of the theatrical surprises, but there are jarring moments such as Kaufmann's grin and 'thumbs-up' just before his first, melancholy entrance. But just grit your teeth through these clever-dick moments, and enjoy this lovely performance in a conventional, i.e. sensible production.