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Massenet: Werther / Nagano, Von Otter, Hadley, Upshaw

Release Date: 10/28/1997 
Label:  Erato   Catalog #: 17790   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jules Massenet
Performer:  Anne Sofie von OtterDawn UpshawJerry Hadley
Conductor:  Kent Nagano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lyon National ChorusLyon National Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 1 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

It is strange to have a new version of Werther recorded in France, with two Americans and one Swede in the leading roles, conducted by an American to boot. To my astonishment, the result almost justifies such a defiance of logic, particularly surprising as the concert performances that preceded the recording sessions were notably incoherent. The major portion of the success may be attributed to conductor Kent Nagano, whose brisk tempos (15 minutes shorter than Plasson, seven or eight minutes shorter than Prêtre) allow no accumulation of wallowing sentimentality, an approach followed by the protagonists. Jerry Hadley in the title role (very out of sorts in the concert and also in appearances as Tom Rakewell just before that) is Read more captured in excellent form, with ringing as well as soft high notes, alongside some vocal tics, such as heavy breaths at the start of phrases and the occasional sob. Unfortunately, he never seems to be inside the role. Anne Sofie von Otter, on the other hand, is extremely restrained in the first two acts, so that when she lets loose in the last two we are knocked flat. Both are scrupulous in following dynamic markings, and both sing in excellent French, although von Otter's pronunciation of some of the vowels causes distortions in meaning, a minor quibble. Dawn Upshaw's pert Sophie might be considered a model for the role, but one definitely wants a more solid Albert than Gérard Théruel, who is too much in retreat both vocally and dramatically. Lesser roles are well taken by Jean-Marie Frémeau (Le Bailli), Gilles Ragon, and Frédéric Caton (Schmidt and Johann). The recording level is very loud, so that my normally impassive cats jumped up when I started the opera. The packaging is a bane for those of us whose shelf space is taxed to the limits, but the jacket photo of a credited model (Charles Hulan) shows a "sensitive" young man, hand on forehead, as if he were saying, "I'm not a well person, " the antithesis of Nagano's approach. The hero of the recording remains Nagano, while the Orchestre de l'Opéra National de Lyon these days seems incapable of a misstep. It should be noted that Nagano's recorded repertoire shows the work of sensitive counselors in his avoidance of uncongenial repertoire, which means he almost never turns out an unsatisfactory recording. Might not other performers and recording companies consider following in this path?

-- Joel Kasow, Fanfare [3-4/1998]
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Works on This Recording

Werther by Jules Massenet
Performer:  Anne Sofie von Otter (Mezzo Soprano), Dawn Upshaw (Soprano), Jerry Hadley (Tenor)
Conductor:  Kent Nagano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lyon National Chorus,  Lyon National Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; France 
Language: French 

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