Metropolitan Opera Live HD Broadcasts 2013-14: Werther [15 March 2014]

Written by: Mark Valencia

The Classical Source brings you a quick guide to all ten of the Metropolitan opera productions included in this season’s international broadcast series.

#7: Werther

A Scene from Massenet's Werther. Photograph: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera

Who wrote it?

The French composer Jules Massenet (1842-1912) wrote Werther when he was fifty years old and already established as France’s leading composer for the lyric stage. The ardent lushness of Manon is again in full flight, but right from the Prelude there’s a new sense of confidence and carefully managed tension that betokens a master at the peak of his powers.

While he was writing Werther Massenet had heard Wagner’s Parsifal for the first time, and the legacy of that experience is apparent in the rigour he brought to his new work – a discipline that enabled this opera to emerge both as dramatically economical and sweepingly passionate.

What’s it about?

Like Manon, Werther is a romantic imbroglio. Adapted from a novel by Goethe, it is the tale of a poet, Werther, who consents to escort the beautiful Charlotte to a ball in the absence of her fiancé, Albert. True to the rules of operatic convention, they fall in love. Charlotte though remains true to her promise and returns to Albert, leaving Werther distraught.

Jonas Kaufmann as the title character & Sophie Koch as Charlotte in Massenet's Werther. Photograph: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera

Listen out for…

… the ecstatic moonlight duet in Act One, which seems to anticipate Puccini in its yearning beauty. Charlotte’s ‘letter scene’ at the start of Act Three builds into a marvellous, multi-coloured fifteen-minute scena for mezzo that is secured around dramatic exchanges with her younger sister Sophie (soprano). It is one of Massenet’s boldest and most thrillingly profound inspirations. Werther, meanwhile, is the most tortured of the composer’s male protagonists and thus a gift for any lyric tenor. In Act Three his anguished reading of poetic verses, “Pourquoi me réveiller”, is justly popular as a recital showpiece.

Who’s in it?

Sir Richard Eyre’s acclaimed new production features superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the title role alongside French mezzo Sophie Koch, who makes her Met début as Charlotte. Lisette Oropesa and David Bižic appear as Sophie and Albert respectively. The young Frenchman Alain Altinoglu conducts.

When’s it on?

The Met’s Werther will be broadcast globally, live in HD, on Saturday 15 March. Massenet’s opera is an intimate drama that’s writ large and played out within epic orchestrations, so an emotionally absorbing HD experience is assured.

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