The opening night of Werther was a beautiful masterpiece, however it was underwhelming at times. Massenet’s Werther, based on Goethe’s Die Leiden des Jungen (The Sorrows of Young Werther), is a classic story of two star-crossed lovers – whose love brings sorrow to both themselves and the people around them.
The Royal Opera House was filled with a vibrant and excited atmosphere as people came to see the famous Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez cast as Werther opposite Isabel Leonard as Charlotte. Despite the buzzing atmosphere of the theatre, the ambience of the entire theatre changed as soon as the curtains were opened. The excited anticipation instantly changed to intrigue as the stage was revealed. The first act commences with the Bailli teaching his children the cheerful “Noël! Jésus vient de naître” as they frolic around the grand but realistic set. Before the audience meet Werther for the first time, we are greeted with his ominously large shadow approaching on the door of the Bailli’s house.
When Charlotte and Werther finally meet, the audience expect this electrifying, almost tangible connection between the two lovers – however I found this aspect to be missing throughout most of the performance. We learn of the death of Charlotte’s mother and Charlotte’s promise to marry Albert despite her feelings for Werther. Whilst this production is meant to be a tale of their forbidden love, it seems more like an obsession on the part of Werther towards Charlotte, with him even appearing to throw a tantrum at the end of Act II when Charlotte marries Albert.
Nevertheless, as the production drew to a close, the feelings between the two lovers became more apparent. The turning point in the opera was where Charlotte finally admits her love for Werther after reading his letters. When she runs after him, the drawing room doors burst open into a beautiful night sky – filled with beautiful amber hues that looked like burning embers falling through the sky. The realistic yet extravagant set was replaced with a vast, endless sky that highlighted and emphasised every action and lyric performed by the two lovers. When Charlotte finds Werther again in the final act, the audience sees Werther alone in his blood-stained shirt in his apartment with the burning embers still visible in the night sky. His apartment, initially off into the distance slowly approached the front of the stage – drawing the audience in to find out more.
Throughout the performance, there was no doubt about the talent of each of the performers – the singers, as well as the orchestra, all delivered an outstanding show. Although if I am being perfectly honest, the orchestra completely overpowered the voices of the singers. It was difficult to really feel the pain and sorrow in Werther’s arias when the accompanying music, as alluring as it was, made it tough to even hear some of the words being sung.
Overall, Werther is an opera that is worth seeing due to its dark and intriguing nature. The mise en scene of the entire production was breath-taking and the songs were beautiful and moving. The main downside of this production, at least for the opening night, was that instead of highlighting the voices of the singers, the accompanying music detracted from it.
- 4 stars