ALBUM TITLE: Werther
PERFORMER: Thomas Hampson, Susan Graham, Sandrin Piau, Stéphane Degout; Orchestre National du Capitale de Toulouse/Michel Plasson (concert performance, Paris, 2004)
CATALOGUE NO: 359 2579
Despite the four-star ratings
below, this recording of a concert
performance of Massenet’s opera
given at the Paris Châtelet in April
2004 can only ever be a second best.
If opera-in-concert is a contradiction
in terms, opera-in-concert on DVD
is almost a reductio ad absurdum.
And this DVD certainly throws
up its comical moments, such as
when conductor Michel Plasson’s
commendable habit of mouthing the
words has him seemingly singing
Charlotte’s part in coy falsetto.
Otherwise it’s the usual worst of
both worlds, with singers earnestly
emoting, exchanging meaningful
moues behind the maestro’s back.
Thomas Hampson, of course,
is the raison d’ être for the whole
enterprise, since this is the so-called
(and unauthenticated) ‘Battistini
version’ of the score, with the original
lead tenor part simply shifted down
into a baritone range. But where
Battistini (as we know from his 78s)
was ardent, reckless, with an exciting upper extension to his open, vibrant
voice, Hampson (a classy Albert on
the EMI Alagna/Gheorghiu set) is at
once over-careful and overstretched,
compensating for his missing high
notes with hectoring overemphases.
The effect is not to lend added depths
of character but to turn Goethe’s
impulsive young poet into a morose
middle-aged depressive. Even so, it
might have made a nice enough set of
CDs. Mark Pappenheim