Massenet, Werther (Antonio Pappano cond. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House)
Of the entire year of programming at ROH, the piece to which I have most looked forward, by some way was Joyce DiDonato’s stage debut as Charlotte in Werther. The matchless mezzo with perfect coloratura comes to town. I won’t even pretend I am only going once.
The opera itself, for the uninitiated, is not the perfect opera. It has gorgeous music undoubtedly. But the heaps of raw emotion aren’t supported by too much action. The characters seem remote in time; surely no woman would behave quite like that today – I certainly hope not. It is also quite uneven, with first two acts relatively slight, but the third and fourth acts are utterly devastating. Where it triumphs, is a libretto which is more like poetry than prose. Never was anything further from verismo.
Young Charlotte (Joyce DiDonato) is loved endlessly by Werther (Vittorio Grigòlo); their love is doomed but eventually they run off. Joyce has endless range unsurpassed coloratura. Precise volume control paired with acting to finger tips means something very special from Joyce. Grigòlo looked every part the awkward tortured poet in the first two acts but he was not as vocally secure at the top of the register as her might have been; by the third and fourth his voice had warmed up spectacularly and you could see what the fuss was about. His family appeared to be seated a few rows behind us, possibly a special trip from Italy.
David Bizic played Charlotte’s husband, Albert. He was good but never truly shone. Rather a dullard brute, you could see why she wanted to get away. The other member of supporting cast worth a serious note was the sensational Heather Engebretson. A beautiful soprano voice with power, acceleration. Absolutely, she is one to watch. Johann (Yuriy Yurchuk) and Schmidt (François Piolino) provided great comic interludes. Yurchuk is entirely bankable and seems to feature more and more with the company under the Jette Parker Young Artists programme.
It is a traditional production, spare, pared back. The church was removed from Act II. The gentle blues and artfully rusticated fibreglass or whatever made for a convincing affair. The snow in act IV was tacky and didn’t really work. But this gave space for the music.
With Antonio Pappano conducting each note as if his entire life hinged upon it, the results from the pit sparkled whilst leaving space for all the drama and poetry on stage.
Overall: layers of beautiful poetry.
Until 13th July; in cinemas 27th June, plus encore screenings.
Cast and creatives
Music - Jules Massenet
Libretto - Edouard Blau, Paul Milliet and Georges Hartmann
Director - Benoît Jacquot
Set and lighting designer - Charles Edwards
Costume designer - Christian Gasc
Conductor - Antonio Pappano
Werther - Vittorio Grigòlo
Charlotte - Joyce DiDonato
Albert - David Bizic
Sophie - Heather Engebretson
The Bailli - Jonathan Summers
Johann - Yuriy Yurchuk
Schmidt - François Piolino
Brühlmann - Rick Zwart
Käthchen - Emily Edmonds
Concert master - Vasko Vassilev
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House