|Order vs. the artist: Werther, Act I|
Photo © Oper Frankfurt/Wolfgang Runkel
Maurizio Barbacini conducted the orchestral forces with strong impulsion, which I appreciated. I was concerned about orchestral coherence during the prelude, but matters rapidly improved. Barbacini sometimes seemed just slightly ahead of the singers (who were attentively watching him,) but the dramatic coordination of stage and pit was on the whole strong. I could have wished for more nuanced subtlety, but the orchestral performance was admirably energetic, and brought out Massenet's repeated themes to strong dramatic effect. The saxophonist made the most of the instrument's contributions. Also, I should note that either this performance restored many sections of dialogue which are often cut, or gave unusual emotional significance to sections of dialogue which I have managed to entirely miss/forget in listening to a variety of recordings! Once again I was impressed by the strong contributions of Frankfurt's ensemble, scrupulous in characterization and vocally solid. Daniel Schmutzhard, as Albert, sang with a secure and plangent baritone, showing Albert's development from a nervous young man, anxious about meeting societal expectations, to a man merciless--even brutal--in ensuring that Werther and Charlotte meet those standards, which he has pledged to uphold. Sofia Fomina made a very touching Sophie, whom we see awkwardly poised on the threshold of adulthood: eager to be taken seriously, eager (in her innocence) for the romance and responsibilities which her older sister has already discovered to be mutually exclusive. Fomina sang with a bright, focused, and well-controlled soprano, shaping her phrases expressively. She sketched credibly Sophie's emotional trajectory as she learns not to take the order of her world for granted, or to assume that it is good. Touchingly, when Charlotte calls her back for the last time, it is to give her the quasi-maternal comfort which has so long defined their relationship.
|The violence of respectability: Charlotte & Albert, Act III|
Photo © Oper Frankfurt/Wolfgang Runkel
John Osborn, making his house debut as Werther, was a very exciting discovery to me. Although he's a countryman of mine, he's spent a good deal of time in bel canto operas and in European houses, so this was my first time of hearing him. Osborn was not only never annoying (something of a feat for Massenet's Werther, I think) but sang with easy, ardent tone across his range. The passionate "O nature!" assured me that I need have no fears for this Werther's high notes, so I settled back and enjoyed. Osborn sang Werther as a committed sensualist (capital-R Romantic,) obsessed with experience and emotion, accordingly unafraid to stretch notes beyond their written value when dramatically appropriate. In Decker's staging, we get to see him, too, develop as a character. He refuses Charlotte's offer of social friendship, but by the third such gesture, he is at least trying to find a way of saving her feelings while remaining honest about his own. Even in Werther's anguished "Lorsque l'enfant revient d'un long voyage," his crisis is more emotional than existential. Osborn lent nice expression to individual words and phrases, with "caresses" of notable beauty in "Pourquoi me reveiller," as well as a sensitive decrescendo. In the last act, Werther returns, half-delirious, with the instincts of the soul which Albert has half-ironically praised as loyal, to Charlotte's house; she, equally heartsick, has gone to seek him in the nature which he loves. (I started shaking, although my seat neighbor was checking her watch.) The final scene was beautifully sung and acted by both Baumgartner and Osborn. Even in this extremity, they are too exhausted by what they have been through to be other than hesitant at first; but after so much restraint, even the touch of a hand is much. Decker's staging has Werther and Charlotte actually dance to the waltz rhythms of the "moonlight" scene, here repeated for the last time, with infinite tenderness. Werther's death is presented as an escape which is denied to Charlotte--here quite literally, as Albert prevents her from leaving the house, wrenching the pistol from her hands. He joins the family tableau in celebrating Christmas Eve; Charlotte, in remaining by Werther's body, resists at last.