Massenet: Werther/Kaufmann DVD

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

Vocally and histrionically, this is a fascinating Werther: Jonas Kaufmann remains the best non-Italian-repertoire tenor in the world (although his Alfredo Germont is pretty grand as well); his Werther is as fine as his Lohengrin and Don José. He is both handsome and a superb, natural actor; his comfort on stage adds to the realism of any part he plays. As Werther he is deeply moving; every word means something and the concentration he pays to what goes on around him, how affected he is by Charlotte’s every move and by nature itself all work together to foreshadow his tragic end. The dark voice–though with a ringing, secure top–is in great shape.

His Charlotte is Sophie Koch, intelligent, frightened, trapped, and clearly in love with Werther. Their chemistry is visceral. Koch’s voice is a not-too-dark mezzo and may lack the inherent drama of other Charlottes, but she’s magnificent in the third act. Victoria de los Angeles was sadder, Crespin more womanly, and Gheorghiu’s voice’s patina is uniquely suited to the part, but Koch is excellent.

Ludovic Tézier’s Albert is more quietly angry than most and his voice is a good baritone. Anne-Catherine Gillet’s Sophie is annoyingly pert–invariably an issue with this role. The rest of the cast, save for Andreas Jaggi’s Schmidt, which is vulgar, is very good and thoroughly involved. Michel Plasson’s leadership is controversial–he’s very slow. This works in Werther’s moments of inner torment and in the first-act duet, but it seems micro-managed elsewhere.

The real problem, in addition to the budget sets by Charles Edwards and André Diot (Christian Gasc’s period costumes are fine), is the camera work. There too many sweaty close-ups, making the viewer lose perspective–and worse, the camera insists on not focusing on whoever is singing: we get great reaction shots, but when Werther is baring his soul to Charlotte, wouldn’t you like to see him do so?

Furthermore, we get a gimmick: Occasionally the action is shot from above. How can this possibly help? And further-furthermore, we get artsy backstage moments during the opera. Is the director-for-video actually trying to distance us from what’s going on onstage? Huh? Forewarned is forearmed: We get wonderful lead singers who can act, fine sound, and vivid picture, but lots of extraneous, poorly judged “stuff”. Despite Kaufmann, the first choice among video Werthers remains Alvarez and Garanca from Vienna in Andrei Serban’s production.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Alvarez, Garanca (TDK)

JULES MASSENET - Werther


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