• OTF - Werther by Massenet

    Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (in English, The Sorrows of Young Werther) is a loosely autobiographical novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, first published in 1774 and later revised in 1787. Werther was an important novel of the Sturm und Drang period in German literature, and influenced the later Romantic literary movement.

    Although not required reading during my formative years in Canada, I was introduced to the story through the music of Jules Massenet, and the operatic version of this novel, Werther, is the subject of this fortnight’s OTF.

    Massenet (along with Charles Gounod, Léo Delibes and Georges Bizet) is one of the dominant French opera composers of the 19th century, and was equally prolific writing over 30 operas, the most famous include Manon (1884), Le Cid (1885), Thaïs (1898) and Werther (1892).

    Werther is an opera in four acts to a French libretto by Édouard Blau, Paul Milliet and Georges Hartmann based on Goethe’s novel. Massenet wrote the opera in 1887, but it did not premiere until 1892, and even then not in French but in a German version translated by Max Kalbeck. This successful staging of the opera was followed a few months later by the French language premiere n Geneva.

    There is no avoiding it – Werther is a tragedy through and through, and Massenet’s music and his librettists’ text provide the rightly melancholy backdrop to a gloomy story of a sensitive man’s infatuation for someone who cannot return his love, and ends in predictable tragedy – but not without a few showstopper arias:

    Synopsis (from http://www.metoperafamily.org/metope...sis.aspx?id=91)

    ACT I. Wetzlar, near Frankfurt, 1780s. Though it is July, the widowed Bailiff teaches his younger children a Christmas carol in the garden of their house. Their progress is watched with amusement by two neighbors, Schmidt and Johann. They ask for Charlotte, the eldest daughter, who is engaged to Albert. In his absence, the Bailiff tells them, she will be escorted to the local ball that night by a young visiting poet, Werther, whom they find uncongenial. As the friends go off to supper and the Bailiff goes into the house, Werther arrives. He rhapsodizes on the beauty of the evening and watches unseen as Charlotte cuts bread and butter for the children's supper. When the party has left for the ball and the Bailiff has gone to join his friends at the tavern, Albert returns unexpectedly. Disappointed at not finding Charlotte, he promises her sister Sophie he will return in the morning. As the moon rises, Werther and Charlotte return. He has fallen in love with her, but his declaration is cut short when the Bailiff passes by, observing that Albert has returned. Despite his despair, Werther urges Charlotte not to break her promise to marry Albert.

    ACT II. Three months later, Charlotte and Albert, now married, walk contentedly across the town square on their way to church, followed by Werther. Albert tries to comfort the youth, and Sophie also attempts to cheer him up, but when Charlotte comes out of the church, he speaks of their first meeting; disturbed, she tells him he must leave Wetzlar until Christmas. Werther contemplates suicide, and when Sophie interrupts him, he rushes away. As Charlotte consoles the tearful girl, Albert realizes that Werther must be in love with his wife.

    ACT III. Alone at home on Christmas Eve, Charlotte rereads the dejected letters written to her by Werther. While she prays for strength, he suddenly appears. Charlotte tries to remain calm and asks him to read to her from his translation of Ossian. Werther chooses a passage where the poet foresees his own death, and when Charlotte begs him to stop, he realizes she returns his love. But she runs from his embrace with a final farewell, and Werther leaves, resolved to die. Albert enters, surprised to find Charlotte distraught, and when a message arrives from Werther asking to borrow Albert's pistols, her reaction convinces him of her love for Werther. He makes her give the pistols to the servant herself, but when Albert has gone she hurries off, praying she may reach Werther in time.

    ACT IV. Charlotte arrives at Werther's quarters to find him mortally wounded. She declares her love, and he begs forgiveness. As he dies, the voices of the children outside are heard singing their Christmas carol.

    The Performance

    Recorded in Paris in 1931, this Werther captures tenor Georges Thill and soprano Ninon Vallin—two of the greatest French singers of the 20th century—in top form. The French supporting cast, chorus, orchestra, and conductor all perform with a sense of identification that subsequent recordings (many of them quite fine, indeed) do not approach.
    Thill and Vallin expertly portray two noble characters drawn, against their will, into a tragic love affair. The passion that exists between this Werther and Charlottte is never in doubt, particularly in the "Clair de lune" and the opera's concluding scene. Interesting then, that several sources have reported that Vallin did not at all care for Thill and in fact, walked out of the studio during the recording sessions of their 1935 Louise!

    It is important to keep in mind that the first Werther, Ernst van Dyck, had a distinguished career as a Wagnerian tenor. Werther is indeed a role that requires a considerable amount of vocal power. Thill, who frequently sang Lohengrin and Tannhäuser, is more than equal to that aspect of the role as well.

    All in all, this Werther certainly ranks as one of Thill's greatest achievements in his rather extensive discography.

    Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
    Werther, Lyric drama in 4 acts (1887-92)
    French libretto by Édouard Blau, Paul Milliet and Georges Hartmann, after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    CAST (Main Characters)
    Georges Thill (Werther)
    Ninon Vallin (Charlotte)
    Germaine Feraldy (Sophie)
    Choeurs et Orchestre du Théâtre national de l'Opéra-Comique under Élie Cohen
    (Studio recording, 1931)

    Libretto @ http://www.operamanager.com/libretti/173.rtf
    Performance @ http://www.mqcd-musique-classique.co...ead.php?t=4357

    June 8 , 2012, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will be adding a new montage "7 & 11" to its Pod-O-Matic Podcast. Read our English and French commentaries June 8 on theITYWLTMT Blogspot blog.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: OTF - Werther by Massenet started by itywltmt View original post

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