Massenet: Werther

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Massenet
LABELS: Virgin
ALBUM TITLE: Werther
WORKS: 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
PRESENTATION: ****

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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

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CDs. Mark Pappenheim