Broadcast

Metropolitan Opera Broadcast: Werther 

Radio Broadcast and Live in HD Transmission of Saturday, March 15, 12:55 P.M. (HD), 1 P.M. (Radio)

Broadcast Werther hdl 314
A photo from early technical rehearsals of the Met's new production of Werther, designed by Rob Howell
© Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera 2014
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Werther

Music by Jules Massenet
Libretto by Edouard Blau, Paul Milliet and Georges Hartmann,
based on the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Goethe
THE CAST  (in order of vocal appearance)
Bailiff baritone, JONATHAN SUMMERS
Fritz treble, DANIEL KATZMAN
Max treble, THOMAS WHITE
Hans treble, SETH EWING-CRYSTAL
Karl treble, RICHARD HAUSMAN
Gretel treble, KIKI PORTER
Clara treble, HELENA ABBOTT
Johann bass, PHILIP COKORINOS
Schmidt tenor, TONY STEVENSON
Sophie soprano, LISETTE OROPESA
Werther tenor, JONAS KAUFMANN
Charlotte mezzo, SOPHIE KOCH 
Brühlmann bass, CHRISTOPHER JOB
Käthchen mezzo-soprano, MAYA LAHYANI
Albert bass-baritone, DAVID BIŽIĆ

Conducted by ALAIN ALTINOGLU

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
The Metropolitan Opera Children's Chorus

Production: Richard Eyre
Set & costume designer: Rob Howell
Lighting designer: Peter Mumford
Video designer: Wendall Harrington
Choreographer: Sara Erde
Musical preparation: Dennis Giauque,
    Jane Klaviter, Denise Massé,
    J. David Jackson, Carrie-Ann Matheson
Assistant stage directors: Jonathon Loy,
    J. Knighten Smit, Paula Williams
Children's chorus director: Anthony Piccolo

Production a gift of Elizabeth M. and
    Jean-Marie R. Eveillard

Major funding from Rolex
 
Additional funding from The Fan Fox and
    Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, Inc.; the
    Gramma Fisher Foundation, Marshalltown,
    Iowa; and The Gilbert S. Kahn and John J.
    Noffo Kahn Foundation

THE SCENES  Timings (ET)
 (Wetzlar, Germany, the 1890s)  
ACT IBailiff's garden1:00–
ACT IIThe town square–2:30
ACT IIIAlbert's house3:05–
ACT IVWerther's room–4:09

Host: Margaret Juntwait
Commentator: Ira Siff
Music producer: Jay David Saks
Producers: Mary Jo Heath, Ellen Keel, 
    William Berger
Executive producers: Mia Bongiovanni,
    Elena Park
 
Directed for Live Cinema by: 
    Gary Halvorson
HD host: Patricia Racette
 
For more information on the broadcasts, 
    please visit www.operainfo.org.
 
Send quiz questions to:
    Metropolitan Opera Quiz
    Metropolitan Opera
    30 Lincoln Center
    New York, NY 10023
    or e-mail metquiz@metopera.org.
 
This performance is also being broadcast
    live on Metropolitan Opera Radio on
    SiriusXM channel 74.
This performance will be transmitted live, in high definition and surround sound, 
into selected movie theaters as part of The Met: Live in HD series, and will be shared with 
students in more than 150 U.S. schools as part of the Met's HD Live in Schools program. 
For information on tickets, visit www.metopera.org/hdlive. 

THE STORY  

ACT I. In the garden of his house in Wetz­lar, the Bailiff teaches his younger children a Christmas carol, though it is only July. His cronies Johann and Schmidt drop by to invite him to a neighboring inn. As the Bailiff's daughter Sophie enters, the three men comment on the seriousness of young Werther, an acquaintance. Schmidt then asks when Albert, the Bailiff's future son-in-law, will return to Wetzlar, but the old widower does not know. He goes into the house to await Charlotte, his eldest daughter, who is engaged to Albert. Werther enters and, left alone, rhapsodizes on the beauty of the scene; the sound of happy children heightens his sense of well-being. When Charlotte appears, he draws aside as she prepares the evening meal for her brothers and sisters. The Bailiff introduces Charlotte to Werther, who in Albert's absence is to escort her to a ball. Charlotte's friends, on their way to the party, are greeted by Sophie, in whose charge her sister leaves the children. Werther, struck by Charlotte's kindness and charm, falls in love with her. The couple leaves, and Sophie sends her father to join his friends at the inn. Albert arrives unexpectedly and is disappointed to find that Charlotte is not at home. He and Sophie discuss the forthcoming nuptials. After lingering briefly in the garden to voice his love for Charlotte, Albert departs. In the moonlight, Charlotte and Werther return from the ball. In response to his declaration of love, she pleads family responsibilities. The Bailiff passes by, observing that Albert has returned. Charlotte explains that as her mother lay dying she promised to marry Albert; then she runs into the house. Werther despairs that Charlotte will belong to another man.

ACT II. By the town square, three months after Charlotte and Albert's marriage, Johann and Schmidt sit before the inn, while inside the church the congregation celebrates the pastor's golden wedding anniversary. Johann and Schmidt enter the inn, as the contented Albert and Charlotte walk to church. They are followed by the dejected Werther, who sinks onto a bench; he is surprised when Albert appears and tries to comfort him. Deeply moved, Werther pledges friendship. Sophie, noticing his sadness, attempts to cheer him by asking for the first dance that evening. After she and Albert leave, Werther cries that he still loves Charlotte, who now comes out of the church. Passionately, he recalls the time they first met; she coolly reminds him that she is now a married woman. When he insists he can never love another, she tells him he must leave Wetz­lar until Christmas. Werther, left alone, contemplates suicide, reflecting that God might receive him as a father would a child who returned early from a journey. When Sophie gaily interrupts him, he rushes away with hardly a word. The tearful girl is comforted by Charlotte, who is visibly moved. Albert observes to himself that Werther loves his wife.

ACT III. Alone on Christmas Eve, Charlotte clutches Werther's despairing letters and admits how much he means to her. Fearfully, she reads the last letter, in which he suggests she will soon have cause to weep for him. Sophie bursts in, laden with Christmas toys, and tries to make light of her sister's depression, but when she mentions Werther, Charlotte weeps brokenheartedly. Alone, she prays for strength. Suddenly Werther appears. Charlotte, trying to appear calm, tells him nothing has changed. Failing to notice his preoccupation with a pair of Albert's pistols, she hands him verses by Ossian that he has started to translate for her; he begins to read of storms and sorrows. When Charlotte can no longer bear the pain in his words, he interprets her tears as a confession of love. He woos her ecstatically, but she runs from his embrace with a final farewell. Werther leaves, resolved to kill himself. When Albert summons Charlotte and questions her about her distracted look, she becomes confused. A message arrives from Werther asking to borrow Albert's pistols; with seeming indifference, Albert tells Charlotte to give them to the servant. Terror-stricken, she does so. The moment Albert leaves, she runs out into the night, praying that she may find Werther in time to stop him.

ACT IV. In Werther's room, Charlotte finds him mortally wounded. Confessing she has always loved him, she kisses him. As the distant sound of the children's happy Christmas carols punctuates his delirium, Werther welcomes death, asking to be buried in a favorite corner of the churchyard.

Broadcast Werther hdl 2 314
A photo from early technical rehearsals of the Met's new production of Werther, designed by Rob Howell
© Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera 2014

THE BACKGROUND

Born in 1842, Jules Massenet came of age in the Meyerbeer-influenced Paris Opera, and his first success, Le Roi de Lahore (1877), owed more to his theatrical sense than to his music. Massenet's gift for melody came to full flower with Manon (1884). The composer continued this achievement with Werther (1892). Though many of his contemporaries saw him as frivolous, and he made money from these works and, later, from Thaïs (1894) and Sapho (1897), Massenet was a dedicated artist who never failed to explore new extensions of his style. He completed some thirty operas before his death, in 1912.

Broadcast Werther lg 314
Jonas Kaufmann in costume as the poet
Werther

© Brigitte Lacombe/Metropolitan Opera 2014

In Werther, the composer turned to a masterpiece of the late eighteenth century, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther. The novel was written as a series of letters from Werther to his friend Wilhelm, describing his unrequited love for one Lotte; when the young man becomes so distracted he can no longer correspond, Goethe (as editor) takes over and describes Werther's innermost thoughts from then until his suicide.

Massenet's Werther was completed in 1887 and offered for production to the Opéra Comique, but that theater's director, Léon Carvalho, was unenthusiastic about Massenet's opera and its tragic love story. After a fire destroyed the Comique's home theater, the Salle Favart, in May 1887, the opera's premiere was transferred to the Vienna Hofoper, where it was first heard, in German translation, on February 16, 1892. Werther's first performance in French was in Geneva, in December 1892; the Paris premiere, presented by the Comique at the Théâtre Lyrique, followed a few weeks later. The U.S. premiere was a Metropolitan Opera tour performance in Chicago on March 29, 1894, with Jean de Reszke and Emma Eames, who also headed the cast of the New York premiere the following month. The opera was absent from the Met repertory for some twelve years until a new production, starring Edmond Clément and Geraldine Farrar, inaugurated the Met's short-lived residency at the New Theatre on Central Park West on November 16, 1909. 

The Met's current staging, by Richard Eyre — its first new production of Werther since 1971 — had its premiere on February 18, 2014, with Alain Altinoglu pacing Jonas Kaufmann and Sophie Koch.

WHAT TO READ AND HEAR

The Sorrows of Young Werther is available in an inexpensive paperback edition from Dover. Demar Irvine's 1994 biography of Massenet (Amadeus) is excellent.

The ne plus ultra of Werther recordings is the superlative 1931 performance starring Georges Thill and Ninon Vallin, two of this opera's greatest exponents caught at their peak (Naxos). For an opera that has a reputation as a work for connoisseurs, Werther has received a large number of excellent recorded performances. Michel Plasson paces the aristocratic Werther of Alfredo Kraus, paired with the sumptuously sung Charlotte of Tatiana Troyanos, on EMI's 1979 recording, now available on Warner Classics. Rolando Villazón and Sophie Koch are in glowing form in a 2011 performance from Covent Garden, led by Antonio Pappano (DG). Pappano also leads an excellent 1998 studio performance with Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu (EMI)

The best available Werther on DVD is Benoît Jacquot's staging from the Paris Opera, with Jonas Kaufmann and Sophie Koch highly persuasive as Werther and Charlotte, conducted by Michel Plasson (Decca). spacer

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Current Issue: October 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 4