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Massenet - Werther


Vienna State Opera
Conductor – Philippe Jordan

Stage Director – Andre Serban

TV Director – Claus Viller

Set Design – Peter Pabst

Costume Design – Peter Pabst & Petra Reinhardt


Werther – Marcelo Alvarez

Albert – Adrian Erod

Le Bailli – Alfred Sramek

Schmidt – Peter Jelosits

Johann – Marcus Pelz

Bruhlmann – Clemens Unterreiner

Charlotte – Elena Garanca

Sophie – Ileana Tonca

Kathchen – Maria Gusenleiter


TDK DVWW - OPWER 1 DVD – [132 mins, February 2005[


I've always tended to agree with Prof Higgins when, in the words of Lerner's immortal lyrics for My Fair Lady, he proclaims “Indecision is a bore”, and so have some difficulty in empathising with the two principal characters in Werther.


Charlotte has promised her dying mother that she will marry Albert, but when she meets the romantic Werther finds herself torn between love and duty. Even after she apparently makes up her mind and marries Albert she is still obsessed by Werther. She begs him to go away for ever …. or at least until Christmas.


He leaves, dropping dark hints that he may never return and telling her to forget him, but continues to bombard her with love letters. She moons over the letters, and as Christmas approaches Werther returns, only to leave again immediately, borrowing Albert's pistols on the way. Charlotte rushes after him, correctly fearing the worst, and makes her first decision of the evening – Werther is going to die, so instead of attempting to revive him or summoning help, she throws herself into his arms and together they sing their hearts out for around 20 minutes whilst he bleeds to death.


Were it not for Massenet's glorious music this opera would surely have dropped out of the repertoire long ago.


Werther had it's first successful production in Vienna , and this 2005 production from the Staatsoper eschews the customary rather sentimental period piece and focuses on the personal relationships and plumbs the tragic depths of their emotion. It's updated to the 1950's, with wonderfully accurate period costumes and furnishings, and there's rather more than a hint of Hitchcock. Act 1 opens in a summer camp in the woodlands with the children excitedly running around, and a huge tree dominates the stage throughout, changing foliage with the seasons. An ideal backdrop to the sofa-swing used for the love scene in Act 2, but to my mind, somewhat out of place for the indoor scenes of Acts 3 and 4. It's a nice touch when Charlotte drops the letters to the floor amongst the fallen leaves – but what on earth is a cocktail cabinet and a television set doing in a wood?


Charlotte wears a Munroe style wig, and at all times is dressed in formal high fashion of the period. A lace ball gown and white gloves, a fitted suit with matching cloche hat and gloves, and a black satin frock with a collar wide enough to cover her shoulder blades. Her younger sister Sophie is much more casual – she has her hair in a pony tail, wears slacks and a duffel coat, the contrast is very marked, and one guesses at more than a little resentment on Sophie's side.


Werther is sometimes portrayed as something of a wimp, but not in this production. Marcelo Alvarez cuts a dashing figure, easily eclipsing Albert, who skulks jealously around in a Clouseau style mackintosh, eavesdropping on his wife's conversations.


The quality of the singing is as good as Massenet's music. Both Marcelo Alvarez and Elina Garanca have wonderfully supple voices, ideal for this lyrical score, and their concentrated final act was moving in its intensity. Adrian Erod (Albert) stood out amongst the other singers – through careful shading he managed the transition from easy going boy next door to mistrustful husband with dark toned menace as he handed over the pistol.



© Serena Fenwick


Note: This DVD is now released in a bargain box with seemingly equally desirable versions of Simone Boccanegra and Nabucco from the same source; these are not available for review (TDK DVWW-GOLDBOX1) EDITOR, February 2009




photo credit Axel Zeininger