This month, Monte-Carlo Opera presents a new staging of Jules Massenet’s Werther – a co-production with the Palau de Les Arts-Reina Sofia in Valencia – with Jean-François Borras in the title role, Stéphanie d’Oustrac as Charlotte and Jean-François Lapointe as Albert.
First presented by Monte-Carlo Opera as long ago as March 1897, and last performed in the Principality in March 2005, this lyric drama in four acts and five scenes has a French libretto by Édouard Blau, Paul Milliet and Georges Hartmann. It was adapted from the German novel The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a book based on both fact and on Goethe’s early life. Massenet composed the opera between 1885 and 1887, setting it in the small town of Wetzlar, north of Frankfurt, where Goethe had been living when he wrote the novel.
Werther was originally intended for production at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, but rejected by the director for being too melancholy. The Vienna Court Opera had, however, successfully staged Massenet’s Manon and on the strength of that, requested a follow-up from the composer. Thus it was that Werther was translated into German by Max Kalbeck, and it premiered to great acclaim in Vienna on 16th February, 1892. In Paris, where Manon had also been a success, the Opéra-Comique was persuaded to reconsider its decision on Werther in 1893, but its appeal was limited, and it was withdrawn from the repertoire. It wasn’t until 1903 that a successful revival was staged at the Opéra-Comique, and Werther ultimately became Massenet’s second most popular opera worldwide – after Manon – and one of the four most famous French operas of the 19th century.
The opera tells of the rather introspective young poet Werther who is asked by Charlotte’s father to accompany her to a ball, as her fiancé Albert has been gone for several months. Werther falls in love with Charlotte, but she goes ahead with her marriage to Albert as she had promised her dying mother she would. Werther is inconsolable and Charlotte ultimately realises that she is in love with him too. When Werther borrows pistols from Albert – on the pretext of going hunting – Charlotte is overcome with worry and rushes off to find Werther, only to find him dying of gunshot wounds. They both declare their love for each other before he dies.
In this production, tenor Jean-François Borras sings a role which he has also performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, with Greek National Opera as well as the Vienna State Opera. Other recent appearances include those of Don José in Bizet’s Carmen at Opéra de Paris and Oper Frankfurt, Nicias in Massenet’s Thais for Monte-Carlo Opera, and his debut performance as Lensky in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris and Opéra Nationale de Bordeaux.
Mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac – who is the great grand niece of composers Francis Poulenc and Jacques de La Presle – has performed in Russia, the United States, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, China and at the Glyndebourne festival – to which she is regularly invited – as well as in France. She is as comfortable singing tragic roles as those which are more light-hearted, and her most immediate forthcoming appearances are the title roles in Ambroise Thomas’ Mignon for Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège and Offenbach’s La Perichole for Opéra Comique in Paris.
Canadian baritone Jean-François Lapointe has appeared on the stages of opera houses in major European cities, in America and in Japan. Among his favourite roles is the title in Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande – a role which he has sung in cities such as Toronto, Bonn, Cincinnati, Marseille and Toulouse, as well as at la Scala, the Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
The cast also includes Marc Barrard as Le Bailli, Reinaldo Macias as Schmidt, a friend of Le Bailli, Philippe Ermelier as Johann, another friend of Le Bailli, and Jennifer Courcier as Charlotte’s sister Sophie.
Direction is by Jean-Louis Grinda, decor and costumes by Rudy Sabounghi, lighting by Laurent Castaingt and vidéo by Julien Lousier.
Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chorus of Students of l’Académie de Musique Rainier III. Highlights of Maestro Nánási’s current season include performances of Janáček’s Jenůfa at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Mozart’s Così fan tutte at San Francisco Opera, Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at ABAO Bilbao Opera.
Massenet’s Werther runs at the Salle Garnier, Monte-Carlo Opera, from 20th to 26th February. More information is available on the Monte-Carlo Opera website where there’s a link for ticket reservations.
Information sourced from:
Monte-Carlo Opera programme notes
All images: Werther, Palau de les Arts 2017 ©Miguel Lorenzo y Mikel Ponce unless otherwise stated