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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Werther Opera in 4 Acts (1887)
Werther, Marcus Haddock (ten). Charlotte, Béatrice Uria-Monzon (sop). Albert, René Massis (bar). Sophie, Jael Azzaretti, (sop). Le Billi, Jean-Phillipe Marliére (bar).
Orchestra National de Lille-Région Nord/Pas-de-Calais/Jean-Claude Casadesus
Recorded live during stage performances at the ‘Auditorium du Nouveau Siècle’, Lille, France, from 19th –25th June 1999
NAXOS 8.660072-73 [68.17+53.07]


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The opera is based on Goethe’s novel ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ of 1774 which was considered to epitomise the ‘Sturm and Drang’ period of German literature. Massenet started work on a libretto based on the novel in 1885 and had completed the score two years later. After refusals and hesitations in Paris, it was not until the success of his ‘Manon’ in Vienna that the opera was staged, in a German version, in that city in 1892! The work had its first performances in Paris the following year and then not again until 1903, since when it has retained a firm place in the French repertoire.

Werther has been singularly fortunate on record. The part of Charlotte has drawn even light sopranos as well as the mezzo register for which the part was written. I do think that the mezzo weight is really needed to express the haughty manner evinced by the character, at least until it’s too late and she tells Werther that she loves him as he lies dying by his own hand (CD2 tr15). It is only at that point that I can believe in de los Angeles’ interpretation, charming though her singing is on the old EMI set (no longer shown as being available in their catalogue). The latest EMI recording features the company’s ‘golden duo’ of Gheorghiu and Alagna and the soprano is superb at this point. In this recording, the native French speaking Uria-Monzon, with a full toned, vibrantly expressive mezzo, is very satisfying in her personal agony in the letter scene (CD 2 tr2). She is suitably imperious elsewhere, but doesn’t really soften as Werther dies. Troyanos, on the 1979 recording conducted by Plasson, brings much more to the part. She also has the inestimable value of Alfredo Kraus’s elegantly phrased and ideally toned Werther (EMI mid-price). On this issue, Marcus Haddock starts with promising tone in his great aria (CD 2 tr8) but sounds strained as the dramatic pressure rises. Elsewhere, whilst having some honeyed mezza-voce singing he hasn’t that lovely softness in the voice of Tagliavini in the only other reasonably recorded version at bargain price. (Fonit Cetra in mono). Rene Massis’s full-toned baritone is excellent as Albert, Charlotte’s husband, although he sounds rather older than 25, whilst the Sophie is suitably young sounding.

The conducting is well paced and idiomatic whilst the live recording leaves something to be desired with rather occluded sound and the singers set rather too far back in the aural perspective. The booklet has an excellent essay on the opera, an even better track related synopsis in English, French and German, artist profiles in the first two of those languages and a full libretto, in French, without translations. The strengths of this issue are in the use of native speakers, all with generally good diction, and its bargain price. However, it is in a way comparable to Naxos’s ‘Don Giovanni’, ‘Fidelio’, Tancredi’ etc. that can sit alongside the most distinguished recordings regardless of price.

Robert J Farr

 



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