• In May 2011, Rolando Villazón made his acclaimed return to Covent Garden singing the title role in Massenet’s Werther - “a perfect fit for him” as The Independent glowed
• Captured on CD, Werther showcases every facet of our tenor’s prodigious talent in this signature role
• Werther is musically red-blooded – dense with passion and pathos
• The Financial Times noted, “... there was hardly a corner of the character’s soul that Villazón left unexplored”
• “His artistry is as astonishing as ever, fusing sound, sense and gesture in an uncompromising quest for veracity” (The Guardian)
• Luscious-voiced Sophie Koch is a revelation as Charlotte. She “... displaysRead more impressive vocal richness and openness” (The Stage Reviews)
• The Telegraph lauded conductor Antonio Pappano for his “uninhibited affection for the score”
• The supporting cast contribute significantly to this major addition to the discography of French opera ? Werther is Rolando's first complete opera on CD since 2008 and first live CD recording since Traviata
Despite the fact that the world needs no more recordings of this opera—at least a half-dozen of those available fall into the “superb” category—this one proves that there’s always room for one with a great central character and a conductor who really can underpin the acres of angst. Rolando Villazon has been in vocal trouble now for a few years: surgeries, periods of silence, and a comeback or two have been punctuated by appearances on Britain’s TV show “Popstar to Operastar”; this latter decision, along with his zippy personality, has not led the opera world to expect much.
But this Werther, recorded live last May at Covent Garden, is stunning: still singing with emotional abandon and seemingly little care for his own vocal health, Villazon never sounds under pressure, the voice is not being pushed, the top notes ring true and grand, the rest of the voice is both beautiful and filled with his usual dark resonance. And as always, he sings the words as if they are happening in real time: the “Il faut nous separer” duet that closes the first act has just the right sense of wonderment and honesty; his second-act solos build brilliantly toward desperation; and his third act—including “Pourquoi me reveiller”—is an inevitable buildup to the character’s suicide.
Yes, there are moments when Alfredo Kraus or Nicolai Gedda are more supremely French in their tortured state, where Roberto Alagna adds a vocal beauty that is unmatchable, or where Georges Thill or Jonas Kaufmann are a touch more virile—and vocally unstoppable; but overall, there is not an insincere or thrown-away note or word in Villazon’s portrayal of this self-destructive, idealistic semi-adolescent. If this is no longer a voice that can do anything, it is one that has learned a lesson and is doing what it does correctly.
Sophie Koch as Charlotte, since we are comparing, has not the luster of Victoria de los Angeles nor the innate sadness of Frederica von Stade, but there’s an alertness to her responses and a bloom to her voice (with suitable darkness at the bottom) that are without criticism. And each phrase is sensitively, intelligently sung: her reticence at the start giving way to near-panic in Act 3. The problem is that I cannot recall individual moments from Koch the way I can with other Charlottes: Crespin, Troyanos, the two mentioned above; Callas in the third-act aria.
Eri Nakamura’s Sophie is the usual perky gal, perhaps less irritatingly coy than most. Audun Iversen turns the normally enigmatic Albert into more of a bully than usual—a welcome interpretation. The rest of the cast and Covent Garden Orchestra, led with a combination of Italianate passion and French orchestral filigree by the remarkable Antonio Pappano, make this a must-have recording of this opera, even if you already have a favorite.
Wertherby Jules Massenet Performer:
Anna Devin (Soprano),
Sophie Koch (Mezzo Soprano),
Stuart Patterson (Tenor),
Rolando Villazón (Tenor),
Eri Nakamura (Soprano),
Audun Iversen (Baritone),
Darren Jeffery (Baritone),
Alain Verhes (Baritone)
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1892; France
Werther / Act 1: Assez! Assez! M'écoutera-t-on cette fois?
Werther / Act 1: "Bravo pour les enfants!"
Werther / Act 1: Alors, c'est bien ici la maison du Bailli? ... Je ne sais si je veille