|Kian Freitas, Katy Lindhart, Maestro Keith Chambers, Thomas Cannon, Ola Rafalo, and Alex Richardson
The stage of Merkin Concert Hall is not large but it was large enough to hold an orchestra, with the singers giving a semi-staged performance over to the side. The somewhat reduced orchestra, conducted by Maestro Keith Chambers, came together nicely after a very slightly ragged overture and did full justice to Massenet's marvelous score for Werther.
The opera premiered in 1892, first in German (!) and shortly thereafter in the original French in Geneva. In a couple years it was presented by The Metropolitan Opera in New York, and a few years later found a home at the Opéra Comique in Paris. It remains part of the standard repertory until this very day and we were delighted that the Martha Cardona Opera, founded by Daniel Cardona, decided to present it.
We keep learning new things about opera with every performance and what we learned last night was that the singers cannot really hear the orchestra when they are on the same level. This did not stop mezzo-soprano Ola Rafalo, in the role of Charlotte, from cutting right through their sound with her distinctive and richly textured voice. The interesting texture and generous vibrato were very much to our liking. She was outstanding in her moving third act aria "Va! Laisse couler mes larmes".
Baritone Thomas Cannon created a sympathetic portrait of Charlotte's husband Albert, a role upon which we do not customarily focus. In Act II, he is rather sympathetic to Werther's predicament--that of loving a woman he cannot have. But when he realizes that Werther might be a rival for Charlotte's affection, you could see the change in his body and gesture, as well as hear the alteration in his vocal color. He is only too happy to provide the pistols to Werther! This fine baritone exhibited a creamy and mellow sound that was most agreeable to the ear.
As little sister Sophie, soprano Katy Lindhart used her bright and focused soprano to provide a vocal and dramatic foil for her big sister. We liked her stage presence as well as her voice. Her Act III scene with Charlotte was pure delight.
Baritone Kian Freitas made a fine papa, caring and loving toward his children but also able to join his friends Schmidt (tenor Lindell Carter) and Johann (baritone LaMarcus Miller) for some tippling at the tavern. All three men sang well.
Tenor Alex Richardson seemed to be having a bad night. When the orchestra was playing at low volume, we heard some sweet sounds, of which we'd like to hear more. Sadly, when the orchestra was playing in full force, he tended to push his voice in the upper register, instead of floating the notes. This is a feature to which we are highly sensitive and it was not pleasing to the ear. On the plus side, he did throw himself into the role of the unfortunate Werther and his French diction could not be faulted.
The excellent children's chorus was provided by The Long Island City Academy of Music Youth Choir. The young singers portraying Charlotte's brothers and sisters included Bryan Acosta, Ellis Adams, Lara Akarca, Nina Benson, Bianca Benson, Sebastian Czaplicki, Leah Friedman, Isabel Söhngen, and Nora Yoo. Musical preparation was by Oliver Söhngen.
The story takes place in the late 18th c., a time when deathbed promises were made and kept, a time when romance was not the chief justification for marriage. Charlotte had promised her mother to marry Albert as the mother lay dying. Before the marriage was performed, when Albert was absent, she apparently spent a lot of time with Werther, reading poetry and doing other harmless things. She repressed her growing attraction to him but he was unable to do the same.
Once she wed, she was obliged to send him away. When he returns, the charade could no longer be sustained. They embrace and she rejects him. He kills himself with Albert's pistols but achieves some happiness by dying in her arms.
This scenario, adapted from an epistolary novel by Goethe, is such a product of an earlier epoch, that it demands more stylized comportment than was exhibited onstage in this semi-staged production. Modern dress did nothing to create the illusion we wanted to experience. That is the negative consequence of this type of production. A positive aspect is that one gets to focus on the music.
(c) meche kroop