Thursday, 12 November 2009

Werther - Lowry Theatre, Salford

By Jules Massenet
Conductor: Richard Farnes,
Director: Tom Cairns
Reviewer: Ruth Lovett

Premiering in 1892 and not performed by Opera North since 1982, the Lowry welcomes back this classic production in eager anticipation. This delightful French opera with English subtitles is a key piece in the Opera North’s current program visiting the Lowry this week.

Werther tells the story of Werther, a new-comer to town who falls in love almost instantly with the Magistrate’s daughter, Charlotte who has been looking after the untimely death of her mother. Werther is instantly transfixed by Charlotte and the love and tenderness she showed her siblings and confesses his lover for her after the ball however Charlotte revealed that she is betrothed to Albert, who her mother wished her to marry before her death and everyone is happy and excited to see Albert return except Werther who is devastated by the news.

Charlotte and Albert marry as planned and Albert and Werther discuss how Albert’s happiness has come about at the expense of Werther’s misery. Werther states that his feelings towards Charlotte are friendship and extends friendship to Albert. Charlotte’s sister, Sophie interrupts them and demands the first dance with Werther and it is clear that she feels more than just friendship to him. Charlotte will not admit how she truly feels for Werther and asks him to leave but return on Christmas Eve but Werther knows that hew cannot live without Charlotte and would rather die than be without her. Werther returns on Christmas Eve but how the evening where the piece reaches its dramatic climax.

The set although basic works perfectly for setting the scene and allowing the performers to make maximum use of the stage and the setting for Act Four is particularity effective and accentuates the performance very well. There are occasional issues with the sound quality although these are few and far between and undoubtedly due to the size of the venue rather than weaknesses in performance or an over-zealous orchestra. The direction (Tom Cairns) helps make the piece feel somewhat contemporary without overindulging in unnecessary theatrics.

Particular praise must be given to Paul Nilon (Werther) and Alice Coote (Charlotte – recovering from swine flu) who both perform with such passion and conviction that it is hard not to become swept along with the story and feel emotionally connected to the characters and the final Act rally portrays the quality of both performers’ voices. There are no weak links amongst the cast and the entire performance is highly skilled and well rehearsed.

Werther is a real theatrical pleasure, dramatic and bold, romantic with over-tones of pathos with some outstanding performances, this production is a treat for Opera novices and experienced audience members alike. Massent’s music is a real treat, stirring and evocative, passionate and descriptive, this is a performance which should really not be missed.

Photos: Clive Barda
Wether is at the Lowry on Saturday 14 November 2009 and on tour more info click here
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