MASSENET Werther (Meister)
Massenet’s Werther makes for bleak viewing at the best of times. Goethe’s lovesick poet stumbles around after Charlotte (who’s already spoken for) for three acts before shooting himself on Christmas Eve and taking the entire final act to die. Director Tatjana Gürbaca strips the opera back effectively in her new production for Opernhaus Zürich, captured in this well-presented Blu-ray/DVD from Accentus Music.
Klaus Grünberg’s single set looks simple enough – a hermetic front room, a cramped space panelled in Nordic blond wood – but its panels open up to reveal secrets, such as an organ console in Act 2. As Werther’s world falls apart, so more panels open, revealing video snow flurries and later a swirling starfield, looming from the world beyond. I can imagine the boxed set is excellent for voices, projecting them out to the auditorium. Cornelius Meister reins in the Philharmonia Zurich at the right moments so they never swamp the singers, yet the interludes are played for all their worth.
Juan Diego Flórez’s Werther is a deluded loner. He’s no more than a rudimentary actor; but the pent-up poet suits the Peruvian tenor well and he tackles ‘Pourquoi me réveiller?’ with real aplomb. The voice has grown and darkened in recent years and his tight, slightly nasal quality, which suits his Rossini roles, is less evident here. The British mezzo Anna Stéphany sings an accomplished Charlotte, dignified, contained, her lines sensitively phrased and coloured. Audun Iversen is ever-reliable as Albert, while Mélissa Petit succeeds in making Sophie less annoying than usual, fully aware of the implications of what’s unfolding.
There are some unusual directorial touches from Gürbaca. Guests from the party appear back at the house, a surreal gathering. By Act 2, the Bailli’s children appear to have aged and are now pensioners, forced by Johann and Schmitt to down alcohol … symbolic, perhaps, of how little things ever change in Wetzlar. Charlotte is already smashing up the Christmas tree baubles at the start of Act 3, causing the excellent Anna Stéphany to tread gingerly later on, when she’s required to be barefoot. Albert forces a kiss on her after Werther’s request to borrow his pistols is delivered. And in the final act, Charlotte cradles the dying Werther while cardigan-clad older versions of the pair – dressed in their Act 1 party costumes – cuddle up on the window sill. The latter sounds cheesy but is quite affecting, in a sentimental way. Best avoided at Yuletide though …