Massenet Werther (DVD)
Juan Diego Flórez, Anna Stéphany, Mélissa Petit, Audun Iversen, etc; Chor der Oper Zürich; Philharmonia Zürich/Cornelius Meister; dir. Tatjana Gürbaca (Zürich, 2017)
Accentus ACC20427 137:36 mins
If you yearn for a tearful story of impossible love between a Byronic hero and a woman that promised her dying mother to marry a local boy, then read on. If you dream of Werther as an 18th-century bourgeois world set to pretty tunes, then this remarkable production is not for you. Director Tatjana Gürbaca and designer Klaus Grünberg have transformed Massenet’s masterpiece into a compelling drama that glues you to the edge of your seat from start to finish. Charlotte’s familiar gemütlich world becomes a suffocating box of a room; there’s an oppressive neatness about the array of cupboards, doors, shelves and roof that seem to cramp and confine the characters. So Charlotte’s emotions are closeted until Werther sweeps her off to the party. Liberation is what Werther promises Charlotte.
But’s it’s an amour fou and Juan Diego Flórez gives the performance of his career as a hero who knows that death is where passion is fulfilled. Anna Stéphany’s Charlotte, by turns terrified, tender and tearful, is with him all the way. And Cornelius Meister in the pit never lets the emotional temperature drop in a performance that is properly attentive to the detail that makes Massenet such an orchestral master – for example, the woodwinds and the brass, joined by an alto saxophone.
It’s a bonus that the supporting cast are as committed as the principals. Mélissa Petit is a touching Sophie, and Audun Iversen is a thoroughly decent Albert, in every sense of the word. But who cares about decency as a bloodstained Werther embraces Charlotte in the closing scene and the set throws open its doors to reveal the starry universe beyond.