[Met Performance] CID:224980

Metropolitan Opera House, Sat, March 27, 1971 Matinee Broadcast

Review 1:

Review of Gail Stockholm in the Cincinnati Enquirer

Corelli Sings Rare Massenet Opera at Met

Jules Massenet's rarely performed opera, "Werther," which was presented by the Metropolitan Opera (and nationally broadcast) Saturday, is an intimate and poetic portrait of Romantic sensibility.

The score is lightweight, heartfelt and lovely. The new production designed by Rudolf Heinrich is graceful and visually refreshing. The opera is subtle fare, and should be seen as well as heard to be appreciated fully, for there are many quiet effects that pull it together on stage.

Curiously, in reaching 61 years back into the repertory to revive this opera, so often eclipsed by the composer's more popular "Manon," the Met is making contact with a segment of the audience it doesn't always reach - the young. Never have I heard so many cheering young voices in the opera house as at this recent performance in New York, and there seemed to be more young faces than usual in the audience.

That Franco Corelli was singing the title role undoubtedly had something to do with the youthful turnout, but today's students also may be aware of the important place of Goethe's novel, "The Sorrows of Werther," as a literary landmark of the Romantic era.

When the novel appeared in 1774, it seemed to capture the essence of the young generation's introspective and intensively individual feelings which later were to culminate in Romantic literature. Goethe's account of the hypersensitive poet who commits suicide after his beloved marries another set off a wave of real suicides in Germany.

Why should this opera, introduced in Vienna in 1892, have such appeal for 1971 listeners? Perhaps because it is so different from other works in the repertory and speaks on a more personal level than the more spectacular works which Verdi and Wagner thrust at their audiences.

Remote from the prevailing conditions of today, the setting in the small German village, the theme of the man whose sensitivity sets him apart from others and the atypical opera characterization of the wife as one who remains faithful to her husband are welcome changes from the norm. Perhaps most unwelcome changes from the norm. Perhaps most engaging is Werther's refusal to compromise - he insists upon all or nothing, either the love he desires or death.

The new production stresses the storybook nature of the narrative, focusing on a replica of the title page of the original edition of Goethe's romance during the overture, and enclosing the scenes of the opera within a white picture frame built inside of the proscenium to emphasize the remote 19th century tenor of the drama.

The sets and costumes, while done in lovely pastels and attractive to modern tastes, also hark back to the literal forest scenes and realistic architecture you so often see in the engravings of sets used 100 years ago.

Rosalind Elias starred as Werther's beloved Charlotte and the Met's young coloratura Gail Robinson stepped in, unexpectedly, as Sophie, as a replacement for Judith Blegen, who was ill. Alain Lombard conducted without sentimentalizing the score, giving it good tone color and dramatic interest.

Act I shows Charlotte's home on the audience's left, a forest at the rear, and a stone work garden at the right. A widowed father is teaching his six young children a song and soon is joined by the older sisters Charlotte and Sophie who assist him in running the household.

When they retire into the house, Werther arrives to a graceful theme for cello and harp (a typical Romantic touch) and sings with flute accompaniment about the enchantment of Charlotte's home and his good fortune at being her escort for a ball that evening.

Corelli delivered his soulful aria with well projected tone and a quiet vicissitude of movement around the stage. Corelli has long wanted to do the part and in several years of seeing the tenor on stage, I have never seen a role that suited him better.

He brought unusual dramatic continuity and musical taste to Werther and his manner on stage was regal and poetic, suggestive of the noble quality, if not quite the full depth, of Werther's suffering.

Corelli's phrasing was often, but not always smooth and beautiful. He deliberately departed from a refined tone quality at times to give dramatic emphasis to a line or to produce a rough or more natural sound in the voice?for an expressive effect that was not too pretty or precious. His interpretation was carefully contoured to reinforce the drama.

Of more classical beauty was the duet between Werther and Charlotte in the moonlit garden as they return home from the ball and begin to discover their love for each other. Massenet ingeniously introduces this scene with a lyrical orchestral interlude.

Rosalind Elias, a mainstay of the Met, has the sensuous, low range required for the role of Charlotte and contributed great warmth to this scene, though her interpretation is a little mobile in pitch due to a strong natural vibrato in her voice.

Paul-Emile Deiber's staging was appropriate for the opera, but occasionally uninspired, as in Act II which focuses on Werther's exclusion from Charlotte's wedded happiness. Here Deiber's gestures for the poet were repetitive (head buried in hands all too often) and didn't show the exhausting denial of prolonged and unsatisfied love.

Act III, on the other hand, had telling effect when Werther, unable to restrain his passion any longer, appears in Charlotte's boudoir and stands transfixed inside the door horrified at his compulsion to be there. When she rejects him, he resolves to kill himself, and borrows her husband's dueling pistol for that purpose.

Act IV is the most gripping of all. Charlotte arrives to find Werther mortally wounded and realizing he is no longer a threat to her marriage, confesses her love for him. Elias' acting was superb in this scene, which ends with the kind of irony Romantics loved: children are laughing and playing outside as Werther dies.

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