Following on from last year’s
Manon, and prior to Cendrillon at the end
of the current season, the Royal Opera’s flurry of Massenet works has his
finest opera at its centre.
An appealing duo of stars –
Rolando Villazón, in a welcome return to the house, and the superb French mezzo
Sophie Koch – light up Benoît Jacquot’s otherwise lacklustre production of
Werther, revived for the first time since 2004.
Villazón lacks the tragic
intensity of Alfredo Kraus, Covent Garden’s first Werther of recent times, who
was virtually peerless as the unhappy hero.
It’s hard to imagine anyone being influenced by Villazón’s portrayal
into committing fashionable copy-cat suicide, as supposedly some smitten
youngsters did when Goethe’s novel was published in the 1770s.
In his romantic longings, Werther
is a little too far along the continuum between mental health and insanity but
Villazón just seems a bit sad most of the time. His familiar puppy-dog, lost
boy charm lead to a very different sort of characterization, petulant and melancholy
rather than imbued with any real tragic stature, but he’s affecting
nonetheless. It’s a careful and
controlled performance, and it’s good to report that the voice seems in pretty
good shape after recent troubles, if not the size it once was.
Koch is a near ideal Charlotte:
sleek, beautiful, rich of voice and full of Gallic passion. She rises to heights of emotion that leave
Villazón’s almost hammy emoting on the nursery slopes.
There’s a strong supporting cast –
Audun Iverson as soppish husband Albert and Alain Vernhes as Charlotte’s fertile
father impress and Eri Nakamura is a sweetly vulnerable Sophie, while Darren
Jeffrey and Stuart Patterson make the most of the tipsy twosome, Johann and
Revived by Andrew Sinclair, Jacquot’s
staging does little more than move the cast adeptly around Charles Edwards's slightly
bland sets. It’s all very traditional and
under-directed, although Werther’s Chattertonesque death scene, contained
within a grubby box which trucks slowly downstage, leaves us with the evening’s
one iconic visual.
The orchestra under Antonio
Pappano wallows in the voluptuousness of the orchestrations and in the final
act, while narrowly missing the cutting anguish, approaches some of the depths
of feeling in Massenet’s score.
The evening may not be as heartwrenching
as it can be but this is still an enjoyable account of an opera that deserves
to be seen more often.