Massenet: Werther; plus bonus: Marcelo Álvarez and Elina GaranΩa at the Vienna Opera Ball

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Arthaus Musik
WORKS: Werther; plus bonus: Marcelo Álvarez and Elina GaranΩa at the Vienna Opera Ball
PERFORMER: Marcelo Álvarez, Adrian Eröd, Alfred Sramek, Peter Jelosits, Marcus Pelz, Clemens Unterreiner, Elina Garanca, Ileana Tonca, Maria Gusenleitner; Vienna State Opera Chorus & Orchestra; Vienna State Opera Students/Philippe Jordan; dir. Andrei Serban (Vienna, 2005)


Filmed at the Vienna State Opera in 2005, Andrei Serban’s production of Massenet’s opera with a late 18th-century setting pushes the action forwards to the 1950s, with the visuals exemplifying that decade with precision.

A single vast tree overlooks the action, with good results in the first two acts, though providing an odd feature of the home Elina Garanca’s Charlotte shares with her worthy but dull husband Albert, played by Adrian Eröd. Albert has more to do than usual, including watching over Werther’s death scene, presumably to make sure his rival is finally out of the way. 

What raises the staging to a high level of intensity are the central performances and the conducting. Garanca’s Charlotte is emotionally harder and more complex than usual, indecisive in veering from acknowledging her feelings for Werther and observing her sense of duty towards the husband that her dying mother foisted on her. Her singing is finely managed extremely potent. So is that of Marcelo Álvarez as Werther.

With as much delicacy on display as naked passion, his morbid poet is outstandingly realised both vocally and dramatically. Together with Eröd’s dour Albert and Ileana Tonca’s Sophie – clearly in love with Werther herself – the drama is set out with unusual clarity and realism, even if the lengthy suicide scene, which taxes credibility in the theatre, is even harder to take in close-up.


But conductor Philippe Jordan ensures that Massenet’s pent-up emotion explodes exactly on cue, its expressive power proving impossible to resist. George Hall