Werther – Massenet – Royal Opera House
Jules Massenet took a novel from Goethe to compose a lyrical 4 act opera from a French libretto by Eduard Blau. It was meant to have its premiere at the Paris Opera Comique in 1887, but due to a fire at the Opera House this did not happen and it did not take place until 1892 in a German language translation in Vienna. The French language premiere followed that year in Geneva.
Some of the great tenors over the years have taken on the role of Werther such as Gedda, Kraus, Domingo, Carreras, Alagna, Kaufmann.
In the third revival of the Director Benoit Jacquot’s 2004 production the lead was taken by the great Peruvian tenor, Juan Diego Florez. It is impossible to underestimate the beauty of his intonation and the clarity at the top of his voice, but it is uncertain whether this is really a role of substance for him.
On those occasions when the Orchestra - beautifully conducted by Edward Gardner - rises to an emotional crescendo, Florez’s voice went missing. He doesn’t have the vocal heft necessary for these passages, which was a shame as he sang a great aria ‘Pourquoi me reveiller’ with huge emotion.
He was well matched by the American soprano Isabelle Leonard who has a great quality sound – perhaps more of the vocal warmth could be portrayed in her acting - as does her real husband Albert sung by the South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo whose voice had some of the vocal weight lacking by Florez.
It was good to see the British bass Alastair Miles singing the role of The Bailli and also to see three Jette Parker Young Artists in the Johann of Michael Mofidian, the Bruhlmann of ByeongMin Gil and the Kathchen of Stephanie Wake-Edwards. The young Sophie is sung quite beautifully by another American soprano Heather Engebretson.
The revival is directed by Andrew Sinclair and it is only a shame that the substantial sets did not really allow for quality movement and acting from the principals. The singers were all solid afoot until the end when Werther and Charlotte sung their death duet together.
The Orchestra was outstandingly controlled by the Conductor Edward Gardner who brought out great emotion and range to the beautiful musical lines.