Showing posts with label Werther. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Werther. Show all posts

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Werther: the final scene, with Jonas and Sophie



I missed the Met's cinema relay of Werther yesterday, travelling home from Paris... Thank you to their website for making the final scene available as an "encore" to watch online, starring Jonas Kaufmann, Sophie Koch and a lot of blood. (Update: we hear that this scene is online now because there were technical problems in the cinecast across the US that meant most people didn't actually see it...)

My interview with Sophie from this month's Opera News is here. Keep watching this space for news of t'other one.

Left: the house where Jules Massenet died, close to the Jardins du Luxembourg in Paris's 6ème arrondissement, which I spotted the other day.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Um, in case you were wondering where I was...


...I've been in New York and - in between shopping, museum-hopping and seeing all my oldest and dearest friends - spent a rather pleasant hour in a press room at the Met with the gentleman above, who recovered from his bout of flu in time for a good chinwag. I've been trying to make this happen for years rather than months...and it was worth the wait.

JFK - Jonas Fluey Kaufmann, natch - is in NY preparing for a new production of Werther, which opens on 18 Feb, directed by Richard Eyre and also starring the glorious Sophie Koch as Charlotte (see the new issue of Opera News, just out, for my cover feature about her). HD cinecast is on 15 March. Be there. You'll like it.

It was also wonderful to see Glyndebourne's production of Billy Budd - imported wholesale, orchestra, chorus, Marks Elder and Padmore and all - receive a massive ovation at the Brooklyn Academy of Music the other night. New Yorkers, you have two more chances to see it this week. Here's a rave review from the New York Times.

Just flew home from...JFK. Incredibly, only 5 hrs 40 mins.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Kafka at the ballet

Here's my piece from yesterday's Independent about Arthur Pita's new dance theatre work based on The Metamorphosis by Kafka. One day Edward Watson awoke to find that he had been transformed into a giant insect.... It's at ROH2 all this week.

The Metamorphosis is the book of the moment. I've been in Paris for a couple of days to do an interview and while there I also met up for tea and tarte aux framboises on the Place des Vosges with Mikhail Rudy (he of The Pianist and the animated Kandinsky Pictures at an Exhibition). His next collaborative project, due for premiere in Paris in March 2012, is based on...yes, The Metamorphosis, and will involve film projections by the Quay Brothers to a selection of Janacek piano music. Meanwhile he's bringing Pictures to the UK in November - performances in Southampton (17 Nov) and at the Wimbledon Festival (19 Nov). Well worth the train ride, imho.

Meanwhile, my interviewee - an intergalactic opera star - talked to me for two hours, then sent me home with a red nose. That is a first. I hasten to add that it's made of foam. It is now perching on my desk lamp, smiling at me (in a manner of speaking), while I think of his unforgettable performance as Werther earlier this year.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Yes, He Can

MASSENET'S WERTHER, ROYAL OPERA HOUSE, COVENT GARDEN, 11 MAY 2011

Yes, he can. Rolando Villazon, that is. Sing. "Oui - c'est moi - je reviens," says Werther to Charlotte on his entry in act III. Yup, it's him, he's back - the Rolandoness is out in force: the truest of true tenors, fervent and full of personality and relishing his high notes. If we didn't know what he'd been through for the sake of that voice, would we have guessed during this performance? I don't believe so. Just a couple of very small moments of fuzzy intonation, but of course that can also happen to singers who've not been through anything at all. The tenor has to carry this opera all the way - and he did.

If 'Rolando' sounds like the name of one of those impossibly convoluted Handel opera plots (the one about the footballer?), Werther itself is anything but. On the train into town earlier, the doughty Tomcat asked me to tell him the story. I did. "Oh," he said. "Is that it?" It is. And Massenet lets it unfold at a ploddy andante for perhaps 85% of the time, starting off with children practising Christmas carols, only to reveal that it's July. Given the utter marvel that is Goethe, it's hard to see how anyone could have made quite such a clunky libretto out of it. But perhaps we shouldn't put any degree of naffness past the French bourgeoisie of the late 19th century.


At its best, Werther glows, shudders and engulfs. At its worst, you see exactly what Faure, Debussy and co were up against when they wanted to do something a little different. This score could almost be Tchaikovsky having a seriously bad day. Massenet's most original touches are in the orchestra - reserving the harp for Werther and, for Charlotte's big act III aria, an obbligato saxophone. Naturally, 'Pourquoi me reveiller?' never fails. Tony Pappano gave the whole evening what shape, momentum and sympathy he could.

Benoit Jacquot's production doesn't do very much to help, but for Charles Edwards' gorgeous lighting, suggesting low, slanting sunlight and long, long shadows. Poor old Albert (Audun Iversen) has no personality to begin with - the director could at least have given him some. There must be some reason that Charlotte's beloved mum wanted her to marry him, surely? And with these designs, it's certainly not his dress sense. This is not Iversen's fault - he has a lovely voice. The kiddies tried, but could do better - why oh why did Massenet have to risk wrecking the tragic end with out-of-tune yells of "Noel, Noel, Noel!" offstage? (At least it really is Christmas by now.) The two drunks (Darren Jeffrey and Stuart Patterson) are good fun and as Sophie - the one excuse for some livelier, scherzoid writing from Massenet - Eri Nakamura nearly stole the show. One to watch, there.

Sophie Koch is a strong-toned, suitably priggish and trapped Charlotte; and Villazon gives his all, though his acting did not entirely convince. He stood, gesticulated and delivered - and deliver he did - yet never inhabited the character as much as I longed for him to. The same production, when it was webcast from Paris via Medici TV - also with Sophie Koch, but starring Kaufmann as Werther - reduced me to a gibbering wreck in the comfort of my own study.

A pit star, though: concertmaster Peter Manning, whose personal and charismatic 'golden age' tone in his plentiful solos was simply fabulous; it lifted the whole sound onto another level whenever he had the chance. And speaking of solo violins, a final observation - Korngold appears to have pinched one of the music's sweeter effects, the off-beat violin echo in the act I love duet. If I remember right, it's in The Sea Hawk.

Here's a trailer from the ROH in which Pappano and Villazon talk about the show. Above, one of Rolando's own cartoons off his very fun website.