Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Opera in four acts
Werther   George Thill
Charlotte    Ninon Vallin
Sophie    Germaine Féraldy
Albert    Marcel Rocque
Plus Georges Thill singing arias from other Massenet operas: Le Cid; Hérodiade; Manon and Sapho.
Children's Chorus of the Cantoria
Paris Opera Chorus and Orchestra
conducted by Elie Cohen
(recorded in January 1931)
NAXOS 8.110061-62  (Historical) 2 CDs [145:59]


Two releases of Werther in one year - riches indeed! I recommend that readers read this review together with my review of the new Pappano EMI recording of Massenet's opera, with Alagna and Gheorghiu (EMI 5 56820 2) for the consensus is that Pappano's reading is the best since this historic recording.

Massenet's passion for melody infused with tenderness and sensuality lifts this rather morbid tale of inhibition and thwarted passion. Werther the obsessive artist who cannot forget the woman he loves and whose continually thwarted passion ultimately destroys him; and Charlotte whose misplaced loyalty makes her stick with an earnest yet dull fiancée, Albert instead of following her heart. An error of judgement that leads to tragedy.

This is a classic reading. Conductor Elie Cohen, his choir, orchestra (utilising wooden flutes and gut strings) and soloists are all steeped in the French style and the performance is smooth and perfectly balanced; its ardour and excitement growing naturally and organically.

Tenor Georges Thill strikes a perfect balance between heroism and an angry, petulant or pleading manner so that his Werther always appears believable and retains our sympathy. No small feat this for one can so easily become impatient with this less than attractive character. He is perfectly matched by Ninon Vallin as the equally weak and vacillating Charlotte. Thoughtfully, she understates most of her recitatives, and she keeps her tone warm and poised thus maintaining credibility for her character. Furthermore, her timbre is most beautiful and full; and her singing natural.

I was very taken with Germaine Féraldy's Sophie, girlish and warm-hearted; and Marcel Roque impresses as a stiff yet understanding Albert.

At the Naxos price this set makes a perfect comparator to the new EMI recording and furthermore there is a substantial 25-minute-or-so bonus of more Massenet arias sung with equal fervour by Thill.

Ian Lace

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