Review of Werther at the Minnesota Opera
Werther is an opera in four acts by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Edouard Blau, Paul Milliet and Georges Hartmann based on the German epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.
Talent from all over the world have come together to make the production of Werther possible at the Minnesota Opera.
James Valenti, who plays the title character of Werther, has a voice as impressive and as lovely as the beauty in nature that he sings about.
The dialogue — sang in French — is witty and entertaining in its melodramatic operatic phrasing with subtitles that read, “This is the day Gretchen promised us those lovely Cray fish.”
The opera opens with Werther inside his apartment. Newspapers tacked to the wall in disarray. Werther is laying the floor, obviously in despair.
Act 1 opens with the widowed bailiff teaching his young children a Christmas Carol in July. They stand in a picturesque scene of a backyard with an industrial backdrop with a black metal bridge and staircase the runs the length of the stage.
Act 2 opens with a humorous scene of drinking and cheering “Bacchus forever!” as an ode to Dionysus,Wine making and of ritual madness and ecstasy. Werther seems to spend the entire opera in an ode to the god of madness, as he begs for her in a depression that teeters on the verge of suicide if he cannot covet the object of his affection, Charlotte.
The first half is slow; stick around until the second half, and you’ll be glad that you did. The second half has a powerful opening with Werther standing on the bridge (more about that later) in a bright spotlight. The set is pitch black set. Hints of snowfall glow along the perimeter of the lights. The bridge moves back and a mesh screen lifts. Dramatic orchestration builds. Now the real show begins.
The melodrama moves into the realm of ridiculous in Act 3 when Werther holds onto Charlotte’s ankles, begging for her love. They wrestle on the floor in some combination of desperation, lust and anger.
Werther’s props are a mix-match of effective and distracting. For example, a mesh screen is lifted twice throughout the opera, like a fog lifting, revealing a more clear view of the actors. This prop is the best in the show.
A pair of industrial metal staircases connects to a bridge that moves forward and back on the stage. The prop is distracting in that the characters frequently climb up the stairs and descend down the stairs. The staircases are tall and winding, thus it takes a considerable amount of time to travel from the middle of the bridge down to the middle of the center stage. The prop becomes an annoyance when the scene becomes more about characters traveling on the staircase than about the plot and emotion in the scene.
Tickets are still available for the Feb. 2, 4 and 5, 2012 shows. To order, call the Minnesota Opera Ticket Office at 612-333-6669 Mon.-Fri., 9am-6pm.