Warmth and Richness
heard by MIKE WHEELER
In any contest to find opera's most tiresome character, Massenet's Werther would stand a pretty good chance of making it into the final round. Being lovelorn is one thing; expecting all nature to grieve for you is just grandstanding. I'm willing to bet, though, that Massenet's libretto is 'after Goethe' (whose original novel is one of the key literary events in the rise of German romanticism) by some considerable distance.
In Opera North's production (Theatre Royal, Nottingham, UK, 4 November 2009) Paul Nilon at least makes Werther's emotional intensity believable, particularly his torment in Act 2, though his Act 4 death scene is absurdly drawn out. (I lost count of the number of times he slid weakly to the floor, only to be on his feet again moments later -- the one blot on an otherwise excellent production.)
Ann Taylor gives Charlotte warmth and maturity (though with a rather too persistent vibrato); her hints at her true feelings in Act 2 are nicely understated. There is excellent support from Fflur Wynn's chirpy, supple-voiced Sophie and Donald Maxwell's genial Bailiff. Decent but dull characters are notoriously hard to get across, but Peter Savage's Alfred succeeds in creating sympathy in what could easily be a completely colourless role.
Tom Cairns' direction is well served by Hildegard Bechler's superb designs, which range from homely rustic exterior in Act 1 to Act 3's oppressive interior (the angled ceiling that hangs over the set also hung over Juliet's bedroom in last year's production of Bellini's I Capuletti e I Montecchi).
Conductor Richard Farnes draws playing of great warmth and richness from the Orchestra of Opera North.
Copyright © 5 December 2009