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An omnipresent widespread tree becomes a main character. One senses immediately it is too large to be uprooted, so that Massenet's garden, town square of Wetzlar, drawing-room in Charlotte's house, and Werther's study remain resolutely sylvan. At one moment Charlotte is on a garden swing-sofa, then apparently sleeping outdoors in weather that will be the death of her (her accompanying Bösendorfer grand piano is already much the worse for wear), and poor Werther must expire on a bed of Christmas snow. It must be said that much is ravishingly beautiful, nor has opera ever troubled not to be absurd.

Marcelo Álvarez as Werther in Act 1. DVD screenshot © 2005 ORF
Marcelo Álvarez as Werther in Act 1. DVD screenshot © 2005 ORF

It is clear that the Werther of Marcelo Álvarez has a discriminating eye for nature, and Massenet introduces him with an enchantment of rural noises [listen -- 'Alors, c'est bien ici la maison du Baili?' (Act 1), chapter 5, 0:00-1:00]. Despite the children's anticipation of Christmas as early as July, there is as yet no hint of self-pity as Werther joins Charlotte and her father in their encouragement. The Charlotte of Elina Garanca is certainly worth falling for, vocally and in appearance, while Alfred Sramek's Bailiff keeps a surprising semblance of good humour in the midst of his outsize family [listen -- 'Jésus vient de naître!' (Act 1), chapter 7, 1:04-2:02]. We are left in no doubt that Christmas is coming.

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Copyright © 16 February 2006 Robert Anderson, London UK


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