Operatic Moment: Werther (Massenet)


I have announced a while ago that I wanted to talk about new topics on this blog; as part of these changes,Wednesdays will be dedicated to culture. My long-time readers know how much I love opera (as, in fact, it is one of the main subjects of my novel), so it seems logical that I chose to talk about opera and share this passion with you.

The first opera featured in this series is Werther, by Jules Massenet. The opera premiered in 1892. Based on the 1774 epistolary novel The Sorrows Of Young Werther by Goethe, it is the story of a young poet who falls in love with an unavailable woman, and ultimately succumbs to heartbreak. The cultural significance of both the novel and the opera was huge, as the novel is reputed for started the Werther fever phenomenon, where young men would dress like their heroes, and even reputedly led to vagues of suicide.

Having read the novel before I saw the opera last March, I was able to appreciate Massenet's interpretation, filled with so much romanticism and beauty. I also liked that unlike the novel, where only Werther's voice is heard, we learn of Charlotte's feelings in the opera, and their love is mutual, although forbidden. I knew the composer's other works, but for some reason never listened to Werther until last winter, and I regretted it, as this opera is Massenet's masterpiece and has a depth and complexity, both in the music and in the libretto, that are almost Wagnerian. 
If I had a crush on Jonas Kaufmann before seeing Werther, consider it transformed into a promise of eternal love and devotion (coming from a lesbian, I know! But he is the only exception I'll ever make!). He is not only the most handsome man to roam the Earth, but he has also unmeasurable talent and doesn't simply sing the part but becomes Werther, dazzling the audience with pure essence of devastating romanticism.

The scene I share with you below is the confrontation between Werther, and the married object of his love, Charlotte. Singing the famous aria "Pourquoi me réveiller", he declares his love for her, and she almost succumbs to her own feelings but rejects him. 
Their ultimate and tragic reunion will take place after he has mortally wounded himself, and the texts, music and staging are also of incredible beauty.

I won't say more, but leave you with an excerpt from the 2010 Opéra Bastille production, with Jonas Kaufmann and Sophie Koch (who sang again together at the Metropolitan Opera last winter).  





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