Massenet: Werther/Bocelli

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 5

Sound Quality: 7

Superstar tenor Andrea Bocelli’s first staged portrayal of Werther in Michigan a few years ago was received with decidedly mixed reviews: most observers felt it was nice to hear and see, but overall the singer didn’t really have the vocal goods for the part. Listening to this set, it’s easy to understand what those who experienced it meant. The 23-year-old Werther is a hopeless romantic, a self-pitying nature-head, all too often on the verge of tears, who opts to take his life rather than face it without his beloved Charlotte, who is married to another. Vocally, he’s often called upon to sing over a large orchestra–the character may be somewhat of a wimp, but he better not have a wimpy voice. Bocelli’s voice has a natural plangency that suits Werther’s character well; there’s a real tear in it, he has all the notes, and the bottom of the voice has become richer over the years.

The recording engineers have placed all of the voices on this recording well forward; I had the feeling that in Bocelli’s previous complete opera sets his was always just a bit more magnified than any of the others. The fairness has done Bocelli no favors. His plangency, in the opera’s strenuous second half, turns to strain, and where a full-bodied tone is required–as heard from the likes of Domingo, Carreras, Alagna, or even Kraus–we get a pop-star’s type of emphasis. This is Werther-lite, albeit sung with sensitivity and intelligence.

And I find the Charlotte, rumored up-and-comer mezzo Julia Gertseva, a thoroughly unfinished artist next to, say, Angeles, Stade, Kasarova, Vallin, and Gheorghiu. Her voice encompasses the entire role, but it has an unpleasant edge to it and she isn’t altogether comfortable in Charlotte’s predicament. Her tender moments aren’t vulnerable enough and her desperation sounds plugged-in–it doesn’t come from the gut. Natale de Carolis sounds slightly too old for Albert, and while Magali Léger at least doesn’t “cute up” Sophie’s music, she also sounds about double the 15-years-old Sophie is supposed to be. Yves Abel’s leadership and the Bologna forces are excellent. There are at least four better versions of this opera on CD, so unless you’ve got to have Bocelli, you can skip this and go to one of them.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Carreras/Stade/Davis (Philips)

JULES MASSENET - Werther


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