Saturday, March 15, 2014

Jonas Kaufmann's Werther

Conductor: Alain Altinoglu
Production: Richard Eyre
Set and Costume Designer: Rob Howell

Werther:  Jonas Kaufmann (tenor)
Charlotte:  Sophie Koch (mezzo-soprano)
Sophie:  Lisette Oropesa (soprano)
Albert:  David Bizic (baritone)

If you have read this blog for long, you will know that I flew to Paris a few years ago to see Jonas Kaufmann sing Werther.  I loved it even more this time live from the Metropolitan Opera in HD.

I liked the production, which moved the time to the late 19th century, very much.  It did what I always say the production is for:  it explained the action.  They staged the overture to show Charlotte's mother dying at Christmas just as they began to sing carols.  This explains why father is teaching the children Christmas carols in the summer.

We know why Werther is at Charlotte's house--he is her date for the ball.  The production shows a small bit of the ball before returning us to the house.  Every scene shows this attention to detail without becoming distracting.  There's a harpsichord because the libretto says there is, but in the 1890s no one would have owned a harpsichord. 

I enjoyed Lisette Oropesa's Sophie very much and find that I could not forgive Werther when he made her cry.  Sophie Koch warmed slowly into the role exactly as a proper Charlotte should.

But you know we are here for Jonas Kaufmann.  This is the main opera where the person who has the mad scene is the man.  In fact the entire opera is about a man going mad for love.  If Jonas wasn't so good looking, we might be more afraid than attracted.  He overwhelms us with his intensity.  If you have seen Werther without Jonas you will know that it needs this intensity.

She called herself SHAR-LOT, while he occasionally called her car-LOT-tuh.  In other words she pronounced her name French and he pronounced it German.  Curious. In his interview he greeted his fans in Germany and Austria and mentioned that opera is the greatest of all art forms.  I couldn't agree more.

(Spoiler alert) The sound went out in the final scene, but we saw after he is dead she walked over and picked up the gun.

I couldn't help noticing things talked about on Twitter.  Perhaps I'll have to stop reading it.  I noticed when the couple who had no other dialog talked about Klopstock.  Klopstock and Ossian were writers who were talked about in Goethe's time. 

I think Kaufmann is the best thing going, and I'm glad there are so many ways for me to see his work.


I went again.  You knew I would.  Seeing the ending without the rest of the opera just didn't work for me, so I went to see the whole thing again.  He is a genuine phenomenon.  He treats each aspect of the Gesamtkunstwerk that is opera as its own individual art form, raising it to new levels of beauty and brilliance. I think the one in Paris was sweeter.



Kathy said...

The HD was amazing, but even better to have already seen it in the house first! I also have the Paris dvd, so I knew they would be good together. This is one of my favorite operas anyway, and with Kaufmann!

Dr.B said...

Interesting you should say that. I think I don't like it at all without him.

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time when I was very young, I never thought I would like Werther (so get over it or kill yourself already dammit), even though I loved Massenet and adored Manon. A friend got me a comp to a performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago with Alfredo Kraus (she was in the chorus) - and it had to be for free because I didn't think I liked Kraus either. Long story short: I loved it. Kraus was a revelation. But it's not an easy opera to pull off and most of all you need a great tenor who can act.

I think I love the JK Paris Werther slightly more overall because it is spare and beautiful. The lighting alone is gorgeously painterly. But I liked the Eyre production better than the critics (waltzing!!) and Jonas was even better in NY than in Paris. It was a tremendous performance. (How does he sing with tears in his eyes? How do you do that?)

After the HD encore, 6-8 of us, all strangers of various ages, stood around in the lobby talking about what we'd just seen and heard, too excited to go home without acknowledging in some way this extraordinary experience. He's like a one man golden age of singing.

And I keep thinking how marvelous he will be in Chenier, Tannheuser, Hoffman and Otello. (Everyone should have something to look forward to.)