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Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
An Introduction to… MASSENET Werther
Background [17:23]
Introduction to Werther [62:01]
Written by Thomson Smillie
Narrated by David Timson
Music from Werther Naxos 8.660072-73
Marcus Haddock – tenor (Werther)
Beatrice Uria – mezzo (Charlotte, Werther’s Daughter)
Rene Massis – baritone (Albert)
Jael Azzaretti – soprano (Sophie, Charlotte’s Sister)
Jean-Philippie Marliere – baritone (Le Bailli)
Jean-Sebastien Bou – baritone (Johann, friend of Le Bailli)
Jean Delescluse – tenor (Schmidt, friend of Le Bailli)
Mathilde Jacob – soprano (Kathchen, a young girl)
David Roubaud – tenor (Bruhlmann, a young man)
The Maitrise Boreale – Les Envants
Bernard Dewagtere, chorus master
Orchestre National de Lille-Region Nord/Pas-de-Calais/Jean-Claude Casadesus
Pierre-Michael Durand, assistant to Jean-Claude Casadesus
Recording information not disclosed DDD
NAXOS 8.558173 [79:24]



In his ongoing efforts to enlighten the novice opera fan Thomson Smillie has spent a great deal of time concentrating on Mozart, Puccini, Rossini, Verdi, and Wagner. While that is certainly appropriate, he has largely ignored French opera. Here he begins to rectify that apparent oversight with Massenet’s “Werther”, perhaps the pinnacle of the Gallic genre.

Before he begins the actual discussion of the plot or music Smillie gives a nearly twenty minute overview of the entire genre, going back to the beginnings with Lully. He also explains the reasons for the ballet in the French opera and for the archetypal French five-movement grand opera. As he continues, he goes through the litany of great French opera composers, ultimately arriving at Massenet, the man who truly can be considered the last great composer of French grand opera.

Werther is a brooding, moody work based on the work of Goethe, loosely following a pair of true stories. Part of the story involves the unrequited love of Goethe himself. Into this is woven the suicide of a friend of young Goethe’s when spurned by a married woman. The focus, as is invariably the case in the ‘Opera Explained’ series, is the plot interspersed with the important musical passages and explanations of the cultural milieu. For instance there is a long discussion of the significance of suicide in France at the end of the 19th century, as well as examination of the French affinity for nature in art and libretto. The text does a fine job of pointing out the illustrative use of the orchestra, highlighting things such as how ascending scales represent rising hopes. This is the type of interspersion that makes the CD valuable for both the novice and the seasoned fan of opera.

The source recording for the samples is quite well performed recorded and produced. Additionally, the text in the CD booklet gives additional information not expressly stated by David Timson, the narrator. As a result the entire package is exemplary of how a teaching tool should be assembled.

It should probably be noted that this is not a recording of the opera itself, but merely has excerpts. If you want a recording of Werther’s Massenet then this is definitely not the place to look. It does not have even a single piece in its entirety. However, should one be preparing to see the opera or want to understand the work this is an excellent place to go.

Patrick Gary

see also Review by Göran Forsling



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