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Massenet, Werther: Soloists, Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid. Conductor: Emmanuel Villaume. Teatro Real 21&22.3.2011  (JMI)

Production: Opera Frankfurt

Direction: Willy Decker

Sets and Costumes: Wolfgang Gussmann

Lighting: Joachim Kleim


Werther: José Bros/Giuseppe Filianoti

Charlotte: Sophie Koch/Sonia Ganassi

Albert: Ángel Ódena

Sophie: Auxiliadora Toledano

Le Bailli: Jean-Philippe Lafont

Johann: Miguel Sola

Schmidt: Francisco Vas

José Bros (Werther) and Sophie Koch (Charlotte)
Picture © Javier del Real

Werther has come back to Teatro Real after a 12 year absence. In July 1999 it was programmed for Alfredo Kraus' debut in this house, but he had to cancel. He was already seriously sick and two months later he left us. Since then, the ghost of Alfredo Kraus and his Werther hang above the house which makes facing such a difficult role - quasi in memory of Kraus - extra difficult.

Willy Decker's comes from the Opera in Frankfurt and has been seen in several European cities, including Amsterdam, Antwerp and Lyon. What we get then, is a production at least 10 years old and adhering largely to the sort of thing that can be expected from Willy Decker. The very minimalist sets offer the contrast between the atmosphere of interiors where the characters live their drama, and the outside world at the back of the stage: a dark room and lit outside space, separated by a sliding wall. A table and a few chairs are the only props on stage. Costumes also offer the contrast between the dark blue of all the characters and Werther's traditionally ochre-colored coat.

It's the stage direction this production most disappoints: I rather doubt that Mr. Decker has been in Madrid for the rehearsals; it certainly looked as though the interpreters were largely left to their own devices which made it even more difficult for the audience to enter into the little drama there is on stage. Not even the final scene of the death of Werther was moving. The characters of Johann and Schmidt are quite absurd in the conception of Willy Decker, especially at the beginning of the second Act. It wasn't hard to see why the production was booed at the premiere.

The choice of Emmanuel Villaume as conductor wasn't necessarily a bad choice, but he turned in two quite different readings in as many days. In the second cast (March 21) he was too noisy, paid little attention to nuances, and chose tempi that were too fast for the singers on stage. The following day things changed a lot for the better. His reading was much deeper, less hurried, and paid more attention to the stage. It almost looked as though Mr. Villaume did not like the second cast. Even the orchestra sounded better the second evening (first cast).

Jose Bros was a very credible and convincing Werther, perfectly suited to the character. He lived the role with great passion from the get-go, always phrasing with elegance and style. A pity that his louder high notes offer signs of tiredness. He had no problem to reach the high B flat at the end of his aria, but there the vibrato was too wide. In the second cast we had Italian tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, replacing the originally announced Marcus Haddock. Filianoti is a light-lyric tenor, with a beautiful timbre, but his voice is too light for Werther. In the most dramatic moments he had to push and he got no help from the pit.

Sophie Koch was an excellent Charlotte. This singer is perfectly suited for this character, that she lives it with outstanding intensity, as it is usual with her. She shone at the top and she had no problems at the bottom. When sung like this, it's really no wonder why so many people argue the opera should be called "Charlotte". Sonia Ganassi also offered a good Charlotte, particularly in the third Act, although I prefer her as Adalgisa or Seymour.

Ángel Ódena was solid as Albert and Auxiliadora Toledano - a very promising young soprano - a remarkable Sophie, so much more than the soubrette that we are so often offered in this role.

In the supporting role of Le Bailli, veteran Jean-Philippe Lafont was just a shadow of his former shelf. Francisco Vas made a remarkable Schmidt, better in vocal terms than Miguel Sola as Johann.

This Werther seems to have been the last opera programmed by Antonio Moral. From now on, all the performances will bear the signature of Gerard Mortier. He has just presented the new opera season and, true to reputation, has managed to surprise critics and public who are furious, not only with the program, but also with his remarks.

José Mª Irurzun

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