Opera in four acts in French
Libretto by Edouard Blau, Paul Milliet and George Hartmann
Based on the novel The Sorrow of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
In a New Production
Directed by Francisco Negrin
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Stunning singing renders the new production of Werther a special treat
Jules Massenet’s Werther (1892) is a dramatically exciting and intensely passion and totally romantic French opera. Massenet’s varied music moves from lightly friendly, even tranquil melodies, depicting nature and happy children to intensely emotional feelings of a young poet madly in love with a woman he can never have. Werther (tenor Matthew Polenzani) slowly sinks into an abyss of lonely desperation once he realizes that his potential soul mate, Charlotte (mezzo-sporano French native Sophie Koch) will marry Albert (baritone Craig Verm) someone she is committed toward.
Charlotte early on learns of Werther’s love for her but duty binds her to Albert. Over time, Werther’s love for Charlotte becomes his obsession as well as Charlotte’s obsession with Werther being quite lonely. Werther contemplates suicide. Charlotte becomes enticed to love Werther. In a powerful scene, Charlotte reads (sings actually) a poignant Letter from Werther. Her tears of guilt stream from her. When Werther commits a final act, he returns in a dream fantasy that was marvelously staged by director Francisco Negrin.
This terrific opera contains one of the great tenor roles and Wilmette native Matthew Polenzani, singing his first Werther, nailed the role with gusto and deeply felt emotions. His golden voice soured to the heights! French native, mezz0-soprano Sophie Koch exuded clarity and stirring voice as she impressed all in one the cherished mezzo-soprano roles in the cannon.
I found the production values impressive, especially Louis Desire’s two-tiered sparingly detailed set. With unique lighting (designed by Duane Schuler), the movement from realism to fantasy underscored the psychological moods of Werther and Charlotte. The doomed love and the heartfelt romanticism of this opera exuded the passions of Charlotte and Werther. Jules Massenet’s score was marvelously performed by the Lyric orchestra under conductor Sir Andrew Davis’ worthy direction.
Werther is one of those excellence opera that are rarely performed in America yet are a stable of European opera. Kudos to the Lyric Opera of Chicago for selecting such a passionate opera. This one is special for the hopeless romantic in all of us.
Lyric Opera’s production of Massenet’s Werther plays through Nov. 26 at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive; $32-$239; 312-332-2244, ext. 5600; lyricopera.org running time is 2 hours, 50 minutes with 2 intermissions