MASSENET’S WERTHER: A NIGHT AT THE OPERA

Posted on January 24th, 2011 by .

The Opéra de Montréal debuted their latest production, Werther by Massenet (January 22-February 3 at Place des Arts), this past weekend and the Montreal Buzz was there to take it all in…

French composer Jules Massenet based his libretto, Werther, on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, a novel so popular that its publication in the late 18th century created a “Werther Fever”, which caused young men to dress in the style of the protagonist and even, in some extreme cases, to commit copycat suicides. Massenet’s Werther stays faithful to Goethe’s narrative arc: the young artist Werther falls in love with the beautiful and caring Charlotte, even though she is already engaged to another man. Werther runs off to escape his feelings for her, but returns only to find his love for her has not diminished and that desperate measures must be taken. A story about a tortured young artist deep in throes of love? A perfect fit for a city that gave Leonard Cohen to the world…

Director Christopher Dawes presides over the sparse, elegant sets, which were originally designed by Elijah Moshinsky for Opera Australia. They were clearly created to showcase the performers, though the dynamic set change in the middle of the 3rd act was a clear scene-stealer. The costumes, however, were created much closer to home. The Montreal-based fashion house, Barilà, was given this task and they did not disappoint. The two audience members beside me seemed to be using their binoculars exclusively to spot and comment on the clothes, and judging by the fashion-forward hipness of many attendees, they weren’t the only ones.

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Baritone Phillip Addis, one of several cast members to graduate from the OdM’s Atelier program shone as Werther, his bright baritone adding gravitas to the role, which is most commonly sung as a tenor. Charlotte, played by Mezzo-Soprano Michèle Losier, was the star of Act 3 and Soprano Suzanne Rigden was notable in her role as Charlotte’s younger sister Sophie, drawing a warm round of applause from the audience. The opera, of course, is nothing without the music and the OSM did not disappoint. Under director Jean-Marie Zeitouni, the mood was light and energetic when needed and, later, dark and increasingly ominous as things started to go, as we all knew they would, badly.

Immediately after the show, we headed up to Lemeac and tucked into their great late night menu. My “romance points” are currently through the roof.

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