Spain Massenet, Werther: Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu / Alain Altinoglu (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 15 & 17.1.2017. (JMI)
Werther – Piotr Beczala/Arturo Chacón-Cruz
Charlotte – Anna Caterina Antonacci/Nora Gubisch
Sophie – Elena Sancho Pereg/Sonia de Munck
Albert – Joan Martín Royo/Carlos Daza
Baillo – Stefano Palatchi
Johann – Marc Canturri
Schmidt – Antoni Comas
Director –Willy Decaer
Sets and Costumes – Wolfgang Gussmann
Lighting – Hans Toelstede
Werther has returned to the Liceu after an absence of 25 years; at that time, Alfredo Kraus was the protagonist, having sung the part on two previous occasions in the same theatre. The current Liceu staging of the Massenet opera has been a great success, due in large part to the performance of Piotr Beczala in the leading role.
At the head of the musical direction was Alain Altinoglu, making his debut at the Liceu. His reading was particularly convincing in the second part of the opera, where the drama is especially strong. He managed to control the sound from the pit perfectly; this could have presented a problem since not all the voices on stage were exceptionally strong. Once again, I found the Liceu orchestra much improved, which reconfirms what has been happening in recent months.
In this opera, as in few others, the figure of the protagonist is fundamental. A mediocre Werther results in a failed staging of the opera overall, while an exceptional protagonist can make it a performance that lives in one’s memory. In Barcelona, we enjoyed an exceptional Werther: Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, who lived the character with great intensity and sang beautifully from beginning to end. Nine years ago I was lucky enough to hear him sing this role in Munich, and I wrote then that he was the best Werther I had heard since Alfredo Kraus. And now I can say the same: he is the best Werther today, even including singers such as Jonas Kaufmann. Beczala achieved a personal triumph with his Werther, and I join in the acclamation of a fellow spectator: ‘You are the best in the world!’ His interpretation of the highly anticipated ‘Pourquoi me reveiller’ was magnificent, and the endless ovations forced him to offer a bis to the audience.
After the success of the opening night and of Piotr Beczala in particular, one moves to the second cast. As explained by Christina Scheppelmann on stage just before the performance began, Jose Bros had notified them that morning that he could not sing because of a bad cold. Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, who was in Valencia for rehearsals of La traviata, substituted for Mr Bros. The opera was saved, although the overall result was well below that of the previous day. Mr Chacón-Cruz solved a big problem for the Liceu, and going into comparisons of the performances would be absurd as well as unfair.
Anna Caterina Antonacci, who sang the role of Charlotte in the first cast, is still a great artist although her voice has weakened. She was fully convincing in the part but shows clear signs of fatigue in the high notes, and her voice is smaller than a few years ago. The second Charlotte was Nora Gubisch, whose performance left something to be desired. There is a remarkable lack of freshness to her voice, which is short down below and too tight at the high notes.
Elena Sancho Pereg made an excellent Sophie, with an attractive, well-managed voice and a pleasing presence on stage. Sonia de Munck was a correct Sophie in the second cast.
Joan Martín Royo as Albert was impressive in every way, and Carlos Daza was also quite good in the part.
The stage production is by Willy Decker. I had the opportunity to see it at Madrid Teatro Real six years ago, and my opinion of it hasn’t changed: review
José M. Irurzun