Valencia’s Werther: Excellent Conducting but a Disappointing Production

SpainSpain Massenet, Werther: Comunitat Valenciana Orchestra/Henrik Nánási (conductor), Palau de Les Arts, Valencia, 23.5.2017. (JMI)

Werther © M. Lorenzo & M. Ponce.
Werther © M. Lorenzo & M. Ponce

Werther – Jean-François Borras
Charlotte – Anna Caterina Antonacci
Sophie – Helena Orcoyen
Albert – Michael Borth
Bailli – Alejandro López
Schmidt – Moisés Marín
Johann – Jorge Álvarez
Brühlmann – Fabián Lara

New Production:
Palau de Les Arts and Opera Montecarlo
Director – Jean-Louis Grinda
Sets and Costumes – Rudy Sabounghi
Lighting – Laurent Castaingt

Werther has arrived at the Palau de Les Arts for the first time since the center opened, with reasonably good results. The musical direction was the strongest part of the production, but the staging left something to be desired and the cast was uneven.

For this premiere at the Palau de Les Arts, a new production was commissioned, in association with the Montecarlo Opera where it will be presented next season. The director, Jean-Louis Grinda, is at the forefront of Monaco’s theater world. His production of Tosca was done in Valencia six years ago, followed some months later by a double bill of Il Telephone and Amelia al Ballo. His works may be more or less attractive from an aesthetic point of view, but they are short on stage direction.

The production has several negative aspects, although I expect that the creator has reasons for them. One is the appearance of white-winged angels who accompany Werther as he enters in Act I and again in the final scene: it was real kitsch. Then there was Mr. Grinda’s insistence on placing a large mirror on stage, which was particularly confusing during the prelude. It added nothing to the production except to provide a place for projections during the intermezzo between Acts III and IV. Finally, it seemed absurd that Werther comes out in his first scene in a blood-stained shirt in which he will also die: beyond any deep meaning, it mainly mixes up Werther with Amfortas.

The best part of the performance – and by a great deal – was the musical direction by Henrik Nánási, whom I would love to see more often in opera houses here. His direction had energy and emotion, and he always supported the singers. This young conductor has a great future ahead. Under his baton was the excellent house orchestra, whose sound reminded me of very rich times in the past. They offered a remarkable performance, better than when conducted by Roberto Abbado or Fabio Biondi, the actual music directors of Les Arts.

The protagonist was French tenor Jean-François Borras. His interpretation was nuanced but a little too sweet. There was a greater Romantic weight missing: one must not forget that this character represents that period like very few others. I dare say he had the great handicap of having to fight with the memory of Piotr Beczala in the role a few months ago at the Liceu.

Italian mezzo-soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci was again Charlotte; she sang the part in Barcelona as well, and the result here was much in line with the earlier performance. She is still a great artist but her voice is weaker. Although she was convincing in the role, vocally there are clear signs of fatigue in the high notes, and her voice is smaller than a few years ago.

Sophie was interpreted by Basque soprano Helena Orcoyen, whose voice was too light for the character. She did reasonably well, but was not as impressive as Elena Sancho Pereg, who sang Sophie brilliantly in Barcelona.

Michael Borth was well-suited to the part of Albert, but Alejandro Lopez did less well as the Bailli. Moisés Marín and Jorge Álvarez were correct as Schmidt and Johann, while Fabián Lara interpreted the part of Brühlmann. All belong to the Centro de Perfeccionamiento Plácido Domingo.

José M. Irurzun 

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