La Scena Musicale

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Massenet: Werther

Keith Ikaia-Purdy, Silvia Hablowetz, Armin Kolarczyk, Ina Schlingensiepen Badische Staatskapelle / Daniel Carlberg
Arthaus Musik DVD 101 317 (140m)
*** $$$
With the decline of the studio opera recording, we have witnessed a concomitant rise of live performances, particularly on DVD. This Werther from Karlsruhe, a German regional house, would not have been released even a few short years ago. There are no starry principals, just typical “house singers” on fest contracts – competent, occasionally very fine artists as members of an ensemble. Updated to modern day, this Regietheater Werther is par for the course in Germany. There are lots of little touches – some work better than others: a physically handicapped Sophie, the Bailiff, Johann and Schmidt as major drunks, a Charlotte completely unhinged at the end, and the addition of a flashback in the beginning, with Charlotte sobbing at Werther’s newly dug grave. Director Robert Tannenbaum’s vision is unrelentingly dark. Practically everyone has a long face, including Sophie. Musically it is uneven, the major liability being Hawaiian tenor Keith Ikaia-Purdy as Werther. He sang a fine Nemorino for Opera Ontario some years ago, but his lyric tenor has become darker and heavier, and afflicted with a slow vibrato. His singing is effortful, resorting to a constant mezzo forte that becomes monochromatic and dull very quickly. There isn’t much chemistry between him and the quite well-sung Charlotte of Silvia Hablowetz – his being quite a bit shorter than her doesn’t help matters. The sets and costumes aim for realism at the expense of Romanticism – frankly, watching Werther in a raincoat the whole opera is not my idea of good costuming. The conducting of Daniel Carlberg and the playing of the Badische Staatskapelle save this show. This is a curiosity at best, as there are better updated versions around, such as the Alvarez-Garanca-Wiener Staatsoper version.

- Joseph K. So

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