Jules Massenet's Werther

« previous episode | next episode »

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Both tragic and deeply romantic, this opera by Jules Massenet stars a poet plagued by unrequited love, on the verge of suicide on Christmas Eve.

Werther, sung by tenor Ramón Vargas, is a sensitive, artistic character dreamed up by Goethe in the late 18th century. Werther attends a ball with the engaged Charlotte, played by mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, while her fiancé, Albert, is out of town. Amidst confessing his love for Charlotte, she explains a promise made to her dying mother that she would wed Albert.

Charlotte and Albert are wed by Act II, giving Werther plenty of reasons to despair.  Writing her letters and reminiscing about the time they’ve spent together, Werther can’t hide his affection for Charlotte, who asks him not to see her again until Christmas Day.

Though thoroughly French in its musical style, this opera is based on the German novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. A hallmark of early romanticism, the novel gained tremendous recognition for German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Loosely autobiographical, Goethe fell in love with an engaged Charlotte of his own and suffered through a friendship he vainly wished more from.

Conductor Emmanuel Villaume leads this co-production between the San Francisco Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  


Werther - Ramon Vargas
Charlotte - Alice Coote
Sophie - Heidi Stober
Albert - Brian Mulligan
The Baliff - Christian Van Horn
Schmidt - Robert MacNeil
Katchen - Susannah Biller
Bruhlmann - Austin Kness
Johann - Bojan Knezevic

CONDUCTOR: Emmanuel Villaume
STAGE DIRECTOR: Francisco Negrin

Comments [6]

I must say I was surprised when I found out that the tenor in this performance was Ramon Vargas. I thought I was hearing Jonas Kaufman and I mean this as a true compliment.Vargas sounded very powerful in Pourquoi me reveiller. This performance brought back memories of a performance of this opera I heard in person at the Met some years ago with Alfredo Kraus which was also superb.

Sep. 17 2011 03:49 PM
Alison from New York

my favorite French opera since the Met's 1971 production (its 2nd, and the 1st since 1909 or something). This despite greatness of Troyens et al. It remains so completely modern in emotion and mood - one of the few I wouldn't totally cringe to see done in a well-thought-out modern, even punk, production. The music is positively divine. You can do worse than base your opera on the great GOETHE! PS I am a Wagnerite, and even Wagner admired Massenet.

Sep. 17 2011 03:32 PM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

Yes, death scene a little too long and melodramatic but that tenor aria, Pourquoi me reveiller is absolutely gorgeous. I have a recording of Michael Bolton, of all people, singing this. His album is entitled My Secret Passion and he does a good job. Really, don't smirk. Yeah, I know I grew up listening to Bjoerling and Gigli but I know the work that went into this cd of his. This opera was a welcome change of pace.

Sep. 17 2011 03:15 PM
Barry Morentz from New York City

IMO, the best French opera (along with Troyens). Superb musical characterizations, exquisitely orchestrated, and music so right for each situation. The Clair de Lune, The Letter Scene, and Pourquoi me reveiller are unforgettable. (Death scene perhaps a bit dragged out). Massenet's reputation has deservedly been on the rise.

Sep. 17 2011 01:31 PM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

This opera deserves to be presented more often. Lovely music and probably the most beautiful tenor aria ever written, Why do you remind me of the whisper of spring. At least that is what I think he sings. Someone illuminate me if I am wrong.

Sep. 17 2011 11:23 AM
Erica Miner from CA

One of my most beloved operas of all time. The feelings portrayed are deep, yet raw and edgy. There's never been anything quite like it.

Sep. 15 2011 01:29 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.