Massenet’s Werther

Third opera of the season at Lyric: Jules Massenet’s Werther. Even though he was fighting off sleep during the second act, Jeff declared afterwards that this was his favorite opera this season. I’m inclined to agree – Elektra can be a litte too intense, and the plot of Simon Boccanegra somewhat too convoluted. Plus, Werther just has the most gorgeous music.


While waiting for the third act to commence during intermission, a lone violinist in the pit started practicing for another of Lyric’s upcoming opera, Don Pasquale. The plaintive refrains of com’e gentil wafted up from the pits, reminding us of the first time we saw Matthew Polenzani perform the role of Ernesto at the Met. His mellifluous tenor caught our attention, and since then, we’ve enjoyed watching him sing. This time around, he gave an ardent and impassioned performance as the tortured poet Werther, especially in his third act aria, Pourquoi Me Reveiller. It was just sublime, and I began to appreciate just why Charlotte would fall for otherwise such a pathetic soul. Heh.

Sophie Koch made a thrilling house debut as Charlotte, and everyone in the audience could not help but give her a rapturous applause for her letter scene. I love her rich vibrant voice that rang so clearly through the house. We were very impressed by second-year Ryan Center soprano Kiri Deonarine as well.

While Jeff really liked director Negrin’s contemporary set and staging, I was a little more ambivalent. The critics, of course, having seen many different interpretations, have their own preferences. Most reviewers I’ve read have panned Negrin’s staging, attributing it to his conceits. Negrin, in interviews, defended his decisions, saying that he wanted to “stage the music rather than the libretto”. I don’t really know how that works, and was sometimes confused when the supertitles showed the singers singing one thing but doing something else on stage. Negrin certainly was very liberal with his artistic license. However, I did find refreshing the idea of having Werther die instantly after he shot himself and Charlotte subsequently singing to his ghost. It’s definitely less tired than the usual I’m-dying-but-I-still-have-strength-to-belt-out-one-last-20-minute-long-aria.


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