Werther – Théâtre des Champs-Elysées

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Our beloved Florez and our beloved Joyce Di Donato approach Werther for the first time, in a concert performance, in Paris.

The experts obsessed with voices were and are very skeptical on whether Florez can sing a similar role, “forte” of many tenors with much bigger voices. But let’s not forget that the greatest Werther in history was Alfredo Kraus (anybody dares do doubt this?) and ok, Florez is not Kraus, but his voice is in that category, at least partially. His musical sense is certainly comparable to the one of the great Maestro, and the phrasing is absolutely superb, every musical phrase is delivered with impeccable elegance. You can hear the hours of study that went in every note, and his perfectionism gives its fruits. The interpretation is enthralling and moving: Florez manages to arouse empathy and pity for a frankly insufferable character. His Werther is young and fierce. Maybe too much: his cowardly immediate retreat in front of a single sentence from Charlotte “I promised my mother to marry someone else” doesn’t reflect the real, bold and cocky emotion (very Latin) that Florez communicates. You’d expect a reply like “who cares about your promises, dump that moron and marry me!” In my opinion Kraus, with a somewhat affected singing style, managed to convey Werther’s duplicity and weakness, the fact that he was terrified of this great love for Charlotte, and, after all, he didn’t believe in it completely (in fact, he backs off as soon as he sees a way out and runs away, except then he keeps tormenting her, to reaffirm his power over her. Kraus’ Werther is a narcissist suffering from depression, who suffers so that he can say “Look how I suffer!” which is an interpretation perfectly on the spot. But I digress.) Florez, instead, is very good in communicating true and honest feelings. I have the impression that he really does not have the devious, ambiguous register in his dramatic palette . Even in Rossini’s Othello, where he sings the bad guy, he’s a bad guy who is sincerely in love, and honest in his fight against Othello. So, his Werther is HIS Werther. Different, charming, certainly fascinating.


At Pourquoi me reveiller the theatre exploded (in the video above, a studio recording) but in my opinion the peak was the aria in the third act, the one that goes C’est moi qu’elle pouvait aimer!. In that aria, possibly thanks to the high tessitura and the agilities, he really shined, he was incredible.
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And now Joyce! Let’s start with saying that in Charlotte’s part there are two or three high notes which, in my opinion, are simply too high for her voice. It takes of not-so-good metal, and, always IMHO, you can hear the strain. In the lower register the voice is gorgeous, the right vibrato, a wonderful timbre. Her phrasing is perfect, she seems to mold the phrases with her hands, as if they were made of clay. But the most amazing thing is interpretation: she becomes the character she sings. Even in a concert performance she manages to be extremely communicative: the letters scene and the last act were heartbreaking. I must say that I prefer her in bel canto roles; if she takes this über-romantic route soon enough she’ll be throwing babies into the fire, like my friend degghial says. Not that her Azucena would be bad, mind you, Di Donato is one of those people who does everything right. Can’t understand how she does it. But, all in all, I hope she won’t stray too much away from Rossini, Haendel and Bellini/Donizetti.

The Orchestra National de France, conducted by Jacques Lacombe, did, in my opinion, a great job. Some have complained about their loudness, but honestly this seems more a critique of Florez’ voice than anything else. In my opinion they were loud as they should: it’s the end of the XIX century after all. I would really love to hear the orchestra in Vienna play Werther. I also thought that the conductor worked very well with the singers, and made an effort to bring out some details, and not just produce noise. I can’t be more precise in my critique, because I don’t know the music as well as in other operas. In any case, I think they did well.

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Among the other singers the Sophie of Valentina Nafornita stood out. I had already heard her in Don Pasquale in Vienna with Florez, and I thought she had a good voice, but lacked a bit of personality. Her voice sounded more round and less thin, maybe also because of the smaller theater? Her voice is sunny and very young, agile and precise, exactly what’s needed for Sophie, who waltzes through this mega-tragedy without understanding a thing, happy as a lark.

Charlotte’s husband was the young baritone John Chest; his voice is good, but a bit anonymous. Not enough charisma, as I always say, but he’s really very young, maybe he will get better. He does have a good instrument.

The other singers absolutely of the correct level, great in their part.

So, what can we say in the end? First of all the experience was extremely emotional: for the first time I found myself choked with tears during an opera in concert. I still have the regret that I couldn’t see these great performers in a staged opera; they will both sing Werther next season, but not together (Di Donato in London, Florez in Bologna and Zurich). They are still in the peak of their career though, maybe we will have the chance to see them together in this opera.
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A fan can only hope!

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4 comments

  1. I saw an interview or something a while back where JDD said she was only marginally considering Verdi, definitely not Puccini (what’s there for a mezzo? I genuinely can’t think). She might change/may have changed her mind, but I don’t see an Azucena in her near future. So roll on June for the London Werther 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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