[Met Performance] CID:224580

New Production

Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, February 19, 1971

This production was planned for Franco Corelli who cancelled the first performance and was replaced by Enrico Di Giuseppe in the title role. Corelli sang the remaining sixteen performances.
Werther received seventeen performances this season.

Production a gift of Mrs. DeWitt Wallace

Review 1:

Review of Harold C. Schonberg in The New York Times
Opera: Revival of “Werther” at the Met
Massenet Work Last Seen Here in 1947
DiGiuseppe Takes Role as Cover for Corelli

Massenet’s “Werther,” revived Friday by the Metropolitan Opera in a new production, went on without one of its big guns. There was a delay before the curtain went up, and then Osie Hawkins, the stage manager, appeared to make an announcement that Franco Corelli was indisposed, and that “on 15 minute notice,”
Enrico DiGiusppe would replace him.

Some members of the audience behaved disgracefully. There were boos at further mention of Corelli by Mr. Hawkins, even some laughter, it so happened that the tenor was having trouble with his vocal cords, and could not have gone on had he wanted to. For his replacement, it must have been a traumatic experience. Mr. DiGiuseppe had never sung the role of Werther, nor had he rehearsed it beyond the first act. But he was Mr. Corelli’s “cover,” and that is what covers are for. He went on and did very well.

It was only last week, at the Saturday matinee of “Cavalleria Rusticana,” that Mr. DiGiuseppe found himself suddenly on stage replacing an indisposed Sandor Konya. Considering that he is scheduled to sing this afternoon, it will have been a very nerve-racking week for him.

“Werther” was last seen in 1947 in the repertory of the New York City Opera. It has been out of the Metropolitan Opera repertory for about 60 years. A quiet, intimate, sweet opera with a few dull stretches, “Werther” is not the kind of opera that is going to excite audiences, though it has its eloquent moments. The third act, with the duets between Charlotte and Sophie, and then Charlotte’s confrontation with Werther, is Massenet at his bets. This is the act with the one well-known aria of the opera, Werther’s “Pourquoi me révillier.

Quiet as the opera is, it flows mellifluously along. And any attempt at French opera is welcome at the Metropolitan. This new production has been designed by Rudolf Heinrich, and it is a bit puzzling. The first two acts are realistic, and the first, with it Fragonard-like ambience, is especially striking. But the last two acts use stylized sets, thoroughly inconsistent with what had gone before. The third-act set looks for all the world like an exploded drawing of a room, giving the impression that money had suddenly runout. There was better reason for the stylizations of the last act which let the children singing the “Noel” chorus be seen at the rear.

Naturally the audience was with Mr. DiGiuseppe throughout. He moved through the opera with assurance and sang in a steady manner. He was at his best in the upper part of his voice, as he always is, and brilliantly sang the A sharp of “Pourquoi me réviellier.” The role of Werther does not run very high, and he had few other opportunities to exploit his top notes.

But he was never less than reliable, and he sang his role without a memory lapse, without any hesitation – indeed with the utmost confidence. His Charlotte was Christa Ludwig, in a realm of the repertory not normally associated with her. She, of course, is a great artist and she used her voice as an expressive as well as a vocal instrument. In the first two acts she sang simply and lyrically. Then, as her involvement with Werther became more intense, she colored her voice with an underlay of passion.

When she let it fully out, in the last two acts, it was not always what is considered French sound. The instrument is a little too heavy for that and the attacks were more à la Wagner than Massenet. Yet the conviction of the singing, and also Miss Ludwig’s fine acting, made for an absorbing characterization.

There were other fine singers in the cast. Judith Blegen was charming as Sophie, with a youthful ring to her lyric voice that just suited the role. John Reardon, a little rough-sounding in spots, was nevertheless a thoroughly satisfactory Albert. Fernando Corena, as the Justice of the Peace, did all that could be desired. Minor roles were well handled by Nico Castel and Andrij Dobriansky.

Alain Lombard conducted. He was competent throughout. But it could not be said that he pointed up the score. He was more a follower than a leader, and there is more elegance in the music that he brought out.

The house, by the way, broke up before the opera started. Maria Callas was in a box and her admirers went wild. There also were ovations for Leonie Rysanek and Zinka Milanov when those two divas were discovered. They bore up well, all things considered.

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