Back in April I reviewed the Colón´s production of Jules Massenet´s "Werther". Now starting in July 31 Buenos Aires Lírica (BAL) bring their own view of the composer´s adaptation of Goethe´s "The sorrows of young Werther".
I stated in April that the Colón´s "Werther" was a replacement for the première of the Berlioz masterpiece "Les Troyens" and I lamented that some other Massenet such as "Thaïs" wasn´t chosen, for García Caffi (the Colón director who programmed it) knew that BAL had announced it. And two "Werthers" in the same season are much of a muchness (the same goes for any other opera that you care to name). But of course BAL had every right to accomplish its plan.
A curious thing happened with Gustavo López Manzitti: the Colón theoretically had two Werthers, Ramón Vargas and Mickael Spadaccini, but the first fell ill, and so Spadaccini was the initial Werther and López Manzitti came to the rescue as the second...but had to cancel his announced appearance as Andrea Chénier for Juventus Lyrica. And now, Darío Schmunck was to be Werther and his name was in the press release up to two weeks before the initial date; suddenly, with no explanation, López Manzitti took his place!
BAL offered "Werther" in 2004, and the tenor was...López Manzitti. So, even if this year he took up the role twice in unforeseen circumstances, he has long internalized the role. And of course he is an accomplished professional with an extensive career. I can do no better than to quote myself concerning his performance, for it was very similar to the one he gave at the Colón. "His voice is powerful and firm and he acts with intensity; I only missed the sheer beauty of timbre and more ´piano´ singing". And I can add that in the intimate Teatro Avenida the "fortissimi" were much more present. He is helped by being tall and personable.
As to Charlotte, I was rather disappointed by Florencia Machado in the first two acts for she sounded small-voiced and lacked projection. But the Third Act contains her two very expressive arias, and there she rose to the challenge with a sense of drama and adequate volume.
Her teenage sister Sophie was sung very agreeably by Laura Sangiorgio, who has the right timbre for the young girl and the agility for the florid writing. Norberto Marcos was a good Albert, firm in his singing and convincing as an actor. Cristian de Marco had sung Le Bailli (The Burgomaster) at the Colón; he does the part with a deep bass voice, but either because the producer wanted it or he likes it that way, his characterisation was of a much older man than at the Colón, and I don´t agree: he shouldn´t look more than 50 to 55.
The tiresome drunkards Schmidt and Johann were correctly sung by Sergio Vittadini (a new name) and Sebastián Angulegui, though grossly exaggerated in their movements and explosions of laughter, probably marked so by the producer.
A general problem whenever a French opera is put on stage is the deficient diction, and there were many moments where some phonemes grated on the ear.
The best thing in this production was the 50-member orchestra (both "avant-scène" loges were occupied) admirably conducted by the Chilean Pedro-Pablo Prudencio, who unerringly phrased with the right tempi and inflexions, obtaining excellent collaboration from the first-rate players. The piece only requires a small feminine choir (eight singers) and the seven kids who sing Charlotte´s (and Sophie´s) brothers and sisters, pleasantly done by the choristers of Petits Coeurs (not Petites, as wrongly put in the hand programme); they were well handled respectively by Juan Casasbellas and Rosana Bravo.
Now to the production, led by Crystal Manich, who had put on stage in other BAL seasons with considerable attainments "Madama Butterfly" and "Adriana Lecouvreur". The American producer was less inspired this time. True, the action happened in Wetzlar and in the late XVIIIth Century and that by itself is a merit nowadays. But there were vital mistakes alternating with well-thought-out moments.
a) I don´t accept staged preludes or interludes: they are made for listening. The Prelude to Act I sets the dark mood of the tragic end and the music suffices: to show the children is an anticlimax. And the Winter Interlude between Acts Three and Four is a masterful small tone poem that leads to Werther´s suicide: it was grotesque to see a celebration of the gold wedding of the pastor with big laughs; it completely contradicts the music.
b) Albert can´t appear at the end of the First Act, the libretto is clear on that point. And it is completely wrong to join that end directly with the beginning of the Second, which happens three months later and in a tavern.
c) In that act Werther has a sombre monologue; it is completely absurd that he should tell it to the "garçon".
d) The unit set doesn´t work out in the case of the first two acts. The stage designs of Noelia González Svoboda are adequate for the First but not for the Second. Her idea of Charlotte´s house in the Third Act is convincing but it must disappear at the end of it and the Interlude should give time for a new ambience, Werther´s room.
There were good costumes by Lucía Marmorek and imaginative lighting by Rubén Conde.
For Buenos Aires Herald