Massenet: Werther (in Italian)

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WORKS: Werther (in Italian)
PERFORMER: Luca Grassi, Eufemia Tufano, Gabriele Spina, Domenico Colaianni, Rosita Ramini, Salvatore Cordella, Gianfranco Cappelluti, Juraj Nociar, Eva Katrenchinová; Valle d’Itria Festival Voci Bianche Chorus, Italian International Orchestra/Jean-Luc Tingaud
Recorded live at the 2003 Valle d’Itria Festival, this set claims to be the first recording of Massenet’s Werther in the ‘baritone version (1901) written for Mattia Battistini’. It’s a claim that the composer’s great-great-grandniece, Anne Bessand-Massenet, has already dismissed as ‘fallacieux’ in a communiqué issued by the Association Massenet, pointing out not only that no definitive reconstruction is possible, but also that detailed comparisons between fragments of the original as survive and the same passages as recorded here ‘reveal serious textual discrepancies that deny the recording any documentary value’. Given that Dynamic’s lamentable booklet note (which even gets Battistini’s birthdate wrong) says absolutely nothing about the sources used, and contains no hint that the version heard is mere conjecture, one can but echo Bessand-Massenet’s caveat. Quite what a ‘Battistini version’ would amount to anyway without a Battistini to sing it, who knows. But Dynamic certainly shoots itself in the foot by including as bonus tracks the two excerpts from the opera that the great man himself recorded in 1911. You only have to hear them to realise how inadequate Dynamic’s Luca Grassi is by comparison. Moreover, Gabriele Spina, a baritone with a far more sympathetic vocal presence and livelier way with the text, has been spectacularly miscast as the supposedly dull husband Alberto, while the Carlotta, Eufemia Tufano, was apparenty a late substitute, whose wobbly, curdled tone and dubious pitching might have been forgivable on the night, but are quite unbearable on disc. For the rest, the Sofia (Rosita Ramini) is a hooter, the so-called International Orchestra a typical provincial pit band and the recorded sound marred by constant squeaks, creaks and thumps from the stage.So, if it’s Werther you want, stick to the classic 1931 Paris recording with Georges Thill and Ninon Vallin (now on Naxos Historical); if it’s Battistini, go for Romophone’s two-disc collection, including both the Werther numbers, and a lot more besides. Mark Pappenheim