Composed by Jules Massenet
‘Werther’ is made for loving
|Lyric Opera of Chicago presents|
Review by Katy Walsh
Lyric Opera of Chicago presents Werther. An idealistic man falls hard for the baliff’s eldest daughter. Werther loves Charlotte…completely, passionately, obsessively. All he wants is to make her happy. So, when Charlotte asks Werther to go away, he does. Since Charlotte promised her dying mother that she would wed Albert, she can’t be distracted by Werther’s declarations of love. Charlotte dutifully marries Albert and starts to pine for Werther. His letters ignite fervor within her. When Werther comes home for the holidays, they confront their intense feelings for each other. Werther is made for loving.
Under Sir Andrew Davis’ animated baton, Massenet’s opera fills the opera house with dreamy hope and steamy allure. The first act is a flirtation. The beautiful music takes us by the hand to lead us into the forest. The lyrical whimsy is almost playful until the tempo turns dramatic. The big bold sound showcases tormented love. The second act explodes as the couple, Matthew Polenzani (Werther) and Sophie Koch (Charlotte), pours out their emotional anguish together and separately. Polenzani and Koch are exceptional in expressing their despair and desire. Their arias are heartfelt love letters. They easily sweep the audience into their unfulfilled romance. We are all desperate for a happily ever after for this exquisite pairing. Another standout among the stellar cast, Kiri Deonarine (Sophie) lights up the stage with her bubbly effervescence.
Enhancing the old-fashion, 1892 opera is a sleek, contemporary set. Co-commissioned by the San Francisco Opera Association and Lyric Opera, Costume and Set Designer Louis Desire keeps the costumes traditional but the scenery modern. Desire designed a two level set. The action takes place primarily on an elevated platform, five feet off the ground. At stage level is a hovel serving as Werther’s bedroom. It has that creepy dude-living-in-the-basement feel. Pictures of Charlotte are pasted on the wall and her name is scrawled in red across the hallway. Projections are used on both levels to set the mood for lust, gloom and time. I love the industrial looking trees with projected seasonal changes. There is also a powerful scene between Polenzani and Koch where a wall separates them. It was a part of the shiny backdrop and now it serves as Polenzani’s bench and Koch’s bed. It’s not only ingenious for it visual aesthetics but the symbolism is unforgettable. The only speed bump I had with this marvelously sung opera was the drama happening in Werther’s bedroom. In the Civic Opera House, the theatre seating is also old-fashion and not modern day stadium seating. Despite some awkward craning on my part, I couldn’t always see over people’s heads to experience the projections and any on/under bed acting.
Still, Werther is just scrumptious. It will woo you with the upside and downside in believing in *the one*.
Werther continues through November 26th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map). Tickets are $39-$234, and are available by phone (312-332-2244) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at LyricOpera.org. (Opera in four acts sung in French. Running time: Two hours and fifty minutes includes an intermission)
behind the scenes