Massenet: Werther

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Massenet
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Massenet
WORKS: Werther
PERFORMER: Rolando Villazón (Werther), Alain Vernhes (Le Bailli), Sophie Koch (Charlotte), Eri Nakamura (Sophie), Audun Iversen (Albert), Stuart Patterson (Schmidt), Darren Jeffery (Johan), Zhengzhong Zhou (Brühlmann), Anna Devin (Kätchen); Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: DG 477 9340

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Interest in the May 2011 revival of Massenet’s Werther at Covent Garden centred on the return to the venue of tenor Rolando Villazón in the demanding title role of the opera following his time out for surgery. While there’s an occasional and understandable sense of caution, particularly early on in this live recording, he successfully negotiates the exposed or awkward passages. In the bigger singing of the third act, where the desperate poet finally loses any remaining vestiges of emotional control, there’s a touch of the old, devil-may-care Villazón. It’s an appreciable achievement – a bit of a push, perhaps, but he gets there.

Even better is the other main role – the more conventional but conflicted Charlotte, sung by French mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch. Her more restrained passion is beautifully suggested in her French-song-like approach, but she too opens up in Act III while remaining within the stylistic spirit of writing that externalises inner tensions with considerable subtlety.

Audun Iversen perfectly conveys Charlotte’s husband Albert’s respectable (if dull) sincerity, and Eri Nakamura delivers Charlotte’s more vivacious sister Sophie with neatness and point. Nice cameos, too, from Darren Jeffery and Stuart Patterson as villagers Johann and Schmidt respectively, and especially from Alain Vernhes’s distinguished Bailiff.

But what seems most likely to allow this recording to enter the lists of classic interpretations is Antonio Pappano’s conducting. Drawing the very best from his Royal Opera House musicians, he hones in perceptively on harmonic and orchestral detail, revealing the score’s stresses and strains while deftly conveying its momentum.

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George Hall