Massenet Werther opera to a libretto by Édouard Blau, Paul Milliet, and Georges Hartmann. Directed and filmed 2010 by Benoît Jacquot at the Paris Opera Bastille. Stars Jonas Kaufmann (Werther), Sophie Koch (Charlotte), Ludovic Tézier (Albert), Anne-Catherine Gillet (Sophie), Alain Vernhes (Le Bailli), Andreas Jäggi (Schmidt), Christian Tréguier (Johann), Alexandre Duhamel (Brühlmann), and Olivia Doray (Käthchen). Sung in French. Michel Plasson conducts the Orchestre de l'Opéra National de Paris and the Maîtrese des Hauts-de-Seine (Chœur d'enfants de l'Opéra National de Paris). Set design and lighting by Charles Edwards and André Diot; costume design by Christian Gase; directed for video by Benoît Jacquot and Louise Narboni. Released 2014, disc was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling and has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+
This version of Werther was originally created at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 2004. It was performed at the Bastille in 2010; shortly thereafter it was released in a very successful DVD. So it's great now to get it in HDVD.
Werther is a huge, long workout for two singers (Werther and Charlotte) with two modest supporting roles (Albert and Sophie) and a few extra singers for local color. The third star after Werther and Charlotte is the orchestra, constantly providing Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) to give the over-worked tenor and mezzo some breathing room. So it was appropriate for Benoît Jacquot and Louise Narboni to show the orchestra in the video numerous times in views similar to our first screenshot below. I can't remember any other opera video that comes close to giving the orchestra so much attention. Perhaps because the orchestra is so important in this work, the producers arranged to record the sound with 48kHz /24-bit technology, which allowed for excellent rendition of orchestral colors and dynamics. This video picture here looks a bit dark; but in my HT, the orchestra shots were all enjoyable:
Stage director Jacquot also took charge of the video, which he directed with the help of Louise Narboni. Jacquot's goal was not to make a video record of what the theater audience experienced. Jacquot was well aware of the futility of trying to do that with today's recording technologies. Instead, he set out to create an alternate experience for the home theater viewer that would take advantage of things the video team can show the home viewer that the theater audience cannot see. The same director prepared two products: (1) an opera at the Bastille and (2) an opera film for my home theater!
This is the only opera video I know of where this has been tried. Even François Roussillon (today's leading fine-arts videographer who often worms his way into producing/directing roles) has never gone this far. For Jacquot (and Narboni), making a great video for me was just as important as staging a great show for the Bastille audience.
So what is different about this video to make it so different from the the norm? First, the director repeatedly shows us at home what is going on behind the stage as well as in the orchestra pit. Second, although we get all the whole-stage shots we need, the director puts us much or most of the time somewhere between 10 feet and 10 inches away from the singers. Third, the singers are required to act exactly as they would act in real life in the situations depicted. (Finally, instead of talking, they have to sing exhausting amounts of difficult music; but this is not different from the norm.)
Let's look again at behind-the-scenes views Jacquot mixes in with the stage performance. Here, for example, is a silhouette shot of Charlotte (Sophie Koch) doing exercises while waiting to go on stage:
And here we see Charlotte's father and two of his friends on stage as well as the backs of children getting ready to rush forward on cue. Note the slope of the stage and the tiny TV monitor in top center:
And here we see both the front and back of the garden wall set. I've never seen before such frequent violations of the separation of what is illusion and what is real in a theater production. But it doesn't distract at all from my enjoyment of the drama:
In the picture above, we see Charlotte, age 20, in the white dress surrounded by her father, the local Bailli (or Baliff), and his 7 younger children. Their mother died, and Charlotte is taking on the role of rearing them. Charlotte is engaged to be married to Albert, who is away on business. The family has recently met Werther (Jonas Kaufmann), a newcomer to the village who is seeking a civil service post with the local Prince. Werther, pious and honorable, is enchanted by village life in the spring, and he sings romantic praises of nature and the sun:
The annual Wetzlar "Friends and Relations" ball is taking place. Because Albert is out of town, Charlotte has no escort. Werther is recruited to appear with Charlotte. The townspeople will understand that Werther is with Charlotte merely to show his gratitude to all the citizens for their hospitality to him. Well, Werther sees things a bit differently because nobody has told him that Charlotte is spoken for. Before the ball, Werther is impressed to see how beautifully the Charlotte is taking care of the children: