Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur stages a new version of Jules Massenet’s opera Werther in the first week of June.
This four-act lyric drama in five scenes, with a French libretto by Édouard Blau, Paul Milliet and Georges Hartmann, is adapted from the German novel The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a book based on both fact and on Goethe’s early life. Massenet composed the opera between 1885 and 1887, setting it in the small town of Wetzlar, north of Frankfurt, where Goethe had been living when he wrote the novel.
Werther was rejected by Léon Carvalho, director the Opéra-Comique, because he thought it too depressing, and it was only after Massenet’s Manon was successfully staged in Vienna that the management of the Vienna Court Opera requested a follow-up from Massenet. Werther was translated into German by Max Kalbeck, and the opera premiered in Vienna on February 16, 1892. In Paris, it was only the popularity of Manon that persuaded the Opéra-Comique to stage Werther at the theatre in 1893, but its success was limited, and it was withdrawn from the repertoire. The following year Werther was staged by the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and then in Chicago, New Orleans, Milan, and throughout the French provinces, with a single performance at Covent Garden as well. In 1903, a highly successful revival by Albert Carré was staged at the Opéra-Comique, and today, Werther is Massenet’s second most popular work worldwide – after Manon.
The opera tells of the rather dreary young poet Werther who is asked by Charlotte’s father to accompany her to a ball, as her fiancé Albert has been gone for several months. Werther falls in love with Charlotte, but she goes ahead with her marriage to Albert as she had promised her dying mother she would. Werther is inconsolable and Charlotte ultimately realises that she is in love with him too. When Werther borrows pistols from Albert – on the pretext of going hunting – Charlotte is overcome with worry and rushes off to find Werther, only to find him dying of gunshot wounds. They both declare their love for each other before he dies.
The title role in this Nice Opera production of Werther is sung by French tenor Thomas Bettinger – whose voice is described by Forum Opera as “warm, powerful and well conducted” – and who has previously sung the role at Marseilles Opera. Mr Bettinger has performed in most of the major opera houses across France, including the Opéra Garnier in Paris, in a wide range of roles such as Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca, Lt Pinkerton in his Madame Butterfly, Chevalier des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon, Lenski in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata and Don José in Bizet’s Carmen. In the concert hall, Thomas Bettinger has sung the tenor part in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Madeleine Church in Paris and in Bordeaux and Avignon, and in Haydn’s Creation at Avignon Opéra as well.
Anaïk Morel takes the role of Charlotte. Following successful appearances in Richard Strauss’ Ariadne aux Naxos in Hamburg and Toulouse, in Bizet’s Carmen at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites in Toulouse, the French mezzo-soprano – whose voice is described by Classical Source as “agile and alluring” – will again perform in Hamburg – in the title role of Carmen and as Marguerite in Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust. A passionate interpreter of French songs and Lieder, Anaïk Morel regularly appears in concert and recital, having performed at the Salzburg Festival, and with the ensembles such as Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Les Siècles, the Brussels Philharmonic and Musique des Lumières.
Sophie is sung by French soprano Jeanne Gérard. Acclaimed for her “powerful acting” and her “transcendent voice” (Revizor), she will be seen in the role of Pamina in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at the Grand Théâtre, Scène Nationale de Mâcon, in that of Dorinda in Thomas Adès’ The Tempest, and The Second Woman in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. As a concert performer, Ms Gérard has appeared at the Chorégies d’Orange, Verbier Music Festival Concert Hommage à Beethoven at the Opéra National de Paris and the Aix-en-Provence Festival de Pâques.
French Baritone Jean-Luc Ballestra takes the role of Albert. Past appearances include those at Opéra de Paris, Opéra de Nice, Le Monnaie in Brussels, Liceu in Barcelona, Teatro Real in Madrid, and with the Glyndebourne Touring Opera. Apart from the role of Albert, his repertoire includes those of Masetto in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Silvano in Verdi’s Un ballo in Maschera, Marcello in Puccini’s La Bohème, Lescaut in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Escamillo in Bizet’s Carmen. He made his American debut with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in Ravel’s L’Heure Espagnole, and has also sung at the Salzburg, Vienna and Aix-en-Provence festivals.
Also in the cast are Ugo Rabec as Le Bailli, Thomas Morris as Schmidt, Laurent Deleuil as Johann, Victoria Dupuy as Kätchen and Philippe Zang as Brühlmann.
The Nice Philharmonic Orchestra and the Nice Opera Children’s Chorus (director Philippe Négrel) are led by Jacques Lacombe, Music and Artistic Director of the Orchestre symphonique de Mulhouse. He has also served as Principal Conductor of the Bonn Opera, Music Director of Orchestre symphonique de Trois-Rivières and of Orchestre de Lorraine in Metz. Maestro Lacombe is a former Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and principal guest conductor of Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.
The Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur production of Massenet’s Werther takes place on 2nd, 4th and 6th June. For further information and tickets visit the Nice Opera website. Tickets may also be reserved by telephone on 04 92 17 40 79.
Lead image courtesy Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur