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Monday, February 17, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Werther

Jonas Kaufmann shows his sensitive side as Massenet's suicidal poet.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jonas Kaufmann profiles as Massenet's Werther.
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
This new Metropolitan Opera production of Jules Massenet's Werther continues the company's fascination with this French composer, following recent new stagings of Thaïs and Manon. Massenet was an elegant craftsman whose gift for catchy melodies and lyric arias made him fall out of fashion a century ago.

Werther is an old-fashioned love story that ends in tragedy. It remains one of Massenet's most enduring popular operas, a tour-de-force for a tenor with acting ability and a sweet, dulcet tone. The story is an adaptation of Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, a loose autobiographical novel by the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

The title role will be played by star tenor Jonas Kaufmann, whose sensual good looks and rich voice are an excellent fit for the part of young Werther, the sensitive poet whose sorrowful romance with the beautiful Charlotte (Sophie Koch, a replacement for Elena Garanca) leads to heartbreak, depression, and suicide.

This new production (the Met's first new staging of the opera in more than 40 years) is by Richard Eyre and Rob Howell, the same team that gave the Met its hugely successful 2009 production of Bizet's Carmen. It features a strong international cast with Sophie Koch as Charlotte and  soprano Lisette Oropesa in the key role of Sophie. Alain Altinoglu conducts.

Werther opens Feb. 18 with a gala performance. The first generale performance is scheduled for Feb. 22. The Met's Live in HD telecast is scheduled for the final performance of the run on March 15.

Recording Recommendation:
Royal Opera House of Covent Garden cond. Antonio Pappano (Deutsche Grammophon, 2012)
Werther: Rolando Villazón
Charlotte: Sophie Koch
Massenet's opera has a long history on disc, with the part attracting a wide range of tenors from Alfredo Kraus (who made it a signature part) to José Carreras and Plácido Domingo. This recording from Covent Garden features the the return of tenor Rolando Villazón to the title role under the skilled leadership of conductor Antonio Pappano. It gets the nod simply because it features mezzo Sophie Koch, who takes a starring role in this new Met production.
Tickets for Werther are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office starting August 11.

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