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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
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.
Copyright © 16 February 2006
Robert Anderson, London UK