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Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Werther - Drame Lyrique in four acts (1892)
Werther - Roberto Alagna (tenor)
Charlotte - Angela Georghiu (soprano)
Albert - Thomas Hampson (baritone)
Sophie - Patricia Petibon (soprano)
The bailiff - Jean-Philippe Courtis (bass)
Schmidt - Jean-Paul Pouchecourt (bass)
Johann - Jean-Marie Frémeau (tenor)
Böhlmann - Pierre Dupont (tenor)
Kätchen - Sophie Boulanger (soprano)
Tiffin Children's Choir
London Symphony Orchestra/Antonio Pappano
rec. 1-13 August 1998, Abbey Road, London
EMI CLASSICS 3818492 [72:16 + 55:00]

Recorded fifteen years ago in 1998, this performance captures the Alagna-Georghiu partnership at its freshest intensity. The subject of the opera invites such responses, and with Pappano's eager conducting and a strong cast of singers it is hard to imagine a more dramatic rendition of an opera which many view as its composer's masterpiece. 

It is worth noting that when Alagna made his debut recital disc, he chose to include 'Pourquoi me reveiller?' from Werther, but even that impressive recording did not match what is found here. The role is perfect for Alagna, whose tone is beautiful and warm, while at the same time reflecting the character's deep melancholy. In this he is well supported by Thomas Hampson's distinguished rendition of the role of Albert.
 
The two leading women are splendid too. Massenet intended Charlotte to be a mezzo soprano, so Angela Georghiu is often heard singing towards the bottom of her range. She does so successfully, and her character is nicely vocally contrasted with Patricia Petibon's lighter Sophie, whose role could have been written for her. 
Werther is an opera that has been well served in terms of recordings, but this new version conducted by Pappano is a leading contender and sounds better than ever in this re-mastering.
 
The recommended alternative recordings are those from Pappano (again) with the Royal Opera, Rolando Villazon and Sophie Koch (DG 477 9340) and from Sir Colin Davis with the Royal Opera (again), José Carreras and Frederica von Stade (Decca 478 3434), the latter at bargain price. Both are highly attractive, and both score over the EMI reissue for the simple reason that the documentation includes a synopsis of the plot. Inexplicably EMI provides only a (very fine) scholarly essay by Rodney Miles, but with no libretto included in the package it is impossible for the listener to match what he or she hears with the opera's action.
 
Terry Barfoot