WERTHER. A Lyric drama in four acts and five scenes after Goethe.
Sung in English in the translation by Norman Tucker.
Recorded live by the BBC at
the London Coliseum on 13 December 1977.
English National Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Sir Charles
CHANDOS CHAN3033 (2
Can I get the complaints out of the way first?
Why is this presentation highlighting Dame Janet Baker? Let me be clear.
She is a truly magnificent artiste, a wonderful servant to music and, without
doubt, the finest singer of her voice Britain has known. I have nothing but
admiration for her. But she is not the main role in this opera; John Brecknock
is. And he makes a incomparable Werther..
What are the advantages of such an opera in English? Something is lost in
translation, I feel. I listened to the opera in French after hearing it in
English and the French is better.
Well, that is out of the way.
The real star of this version is the silent contributor. Of course, I mean
Sir Charles Mackerras. He is a fine musician as well as a first-rate conductor
and, let me tell you that the two do not always go together. lie is a truly
amazing man. He is loved and admired with profound affection but all who
work and have worked with him. Some conductors, whom I had better not name,
were positively hated. Sir Charles is never caught unawares. He always knows
exactly what he is doing and why he is doing it that particular way. 1 have
never heard him give a bad or inadequate performance. His performances of
Janacek are the greatest ever. His Mozart is sublime.
The booklet accompanying this two CD set is excellent. It times each item,
discusses the opera and the composer, has the full libretto in English complete
with stage directions and some welcome photographs of the action.
The Prelude suggests Wagner. The beautiful string melody is very touching.
The lovely, vibrant sound of the Magistrate singing with his six younger
children who are trying to learn a carol are the best ensemble pieces in
the opera. I am sure that this is where the writers of The Sound of Music
got their ideas. But Massenet's music is not cheap or trashy. Harold
Blackburn has a excellent voice. The carol itself is lovely but all too brief.
Charlotte has vowed to her dying mother that she will marry Albert but things
get complicated when Werther takes her to the ball. And, of course, that
is where the plot is daft. How could Charlotte's father, a magistrate mind
you, agree that his betrothed daughter go out on a date with another man.
How could Charlotte do this herself?
John Brecknock has a lyric, clear voice reminiscent of the finest British
tenor of them all, Wilfred Brown. In his first aria, 0 fair Nature, great
is thy beauty we cannot fail to be impressed. Albert is not in such good
voice but there is some fine orchestral detail, the bassoon solo is deliberately
ludicrous and the orchestral interlude when Werther is at the garden gate
with Charlotte is very beautiful. But it is in the. closing solo of Werther
in the first act that Massenet's produces his most amazing music. The aria,
Voices of rapture and of joy is almost unbearably passionate and the
music at realisation Werther receives that Charlotte is to be another man's
wife is truly heart-breaking, a real tearjerker, a large box of Kleenex job.
And yet it is not cheap or sickly but just the straightforward interpretation
of some lovely music and and incredible performance by John Brecknock. He
outshines the rest of the cast.
Mackerras makes the music so tender and yet so strong. The sound he gets
from the orchestra is another evidence of his knowing exactly what is best.
The Second Act is takes place three months' hence. It is a beautiful Sunday
afternoon. What splendid horn writing and playing indicating the open air!
Wonderful, optimistic music! Touch of irony here. The sound of the organ
in the Protestant chapel is heard and the local pastor is celebrating 50
years of marriage. Albert and Charlotte have been married these three
months. They sing of their circumstances while betrayed Werther sings of
his. Werther's torment has John Brecknock in full and compelling voice in
yet another impassioned aria. He has seen heaven momentarily opened and then
immediately closed again. It is I that she could have loved, he sings
and with what a voice and what secure articulation. Absolutely perfect. This
music is even more realistic for those of us who have personally experienced
Werther's situation, the deception of a woman's betrayal. Bruhlman is also
distressed by Katchen's inconstancy. Albert tries to comfort Werther. He
is not daft but there are a few uncomfortable cracks in Patrick Wheatley's
voice. Charlotte's sister, Sophie, tries to cheer the men up but to no avail.
What comfort is there for a man whose greatest joy have been taken away from
him. Charlotte remonstrates with Werther and, in a typical bossy feminine
fashion, orders Werther to stay away until Christmas. Goethe certainly
understands women. Werther Words, Speak to my heart are heart-breaking
and the final pages of this Act are sheer magic.
The third Act is set on Christmas Eve. Charlotte realises that she does love
Werther. Albert knows as well. Charlotte rushes to Werther to find him mortally
wounded in Act Four. She realises how wrong and cruel she has been to him
and begs his forgiveness. It's a bit late, isn't it? He dies as the children
sing the carol they have been learning for six months.
A truly great and moving experience. Not to be missed despite some flaws
one expects from a live performance.