Werther: Heartbroken and Heartbreaking

Grigolo and Leonard, photo @ Marty Sohl

I caught the matinee performance of Werther this afternoon. My last experience with Werther had been the memorable series of performances with Jonas Kaufmann where Kaufmann was showered with confetti at the curtain calls. (I had no idea that this would be the last time Jonas Kaufmann ever performed in NY.) This afternoon's performance was more sparsely attended -- rows of orchestra seats were empty.

If I wanted to I could probably list about 1,000 things wrong with Vittorio Grigolo's performance in the title role. Not idiomatic, too veristic, overwrought to the point of hamminess (he let out a huge scream before his suicide), overreliance on a few vocal effects and mannerisms. But when judging Werthers, there's only one factor that matters. Did he break your heart? And by that measure, Grigolo was an unforgettable Werther.

Kaufmann and Grigolo almost made it two completely different operas. Kaufmann played the poet as a withdrawn, depressed young man. Grigolo burned up the stage with intensity and energy. His was a candle burning at both ends. In the Act Three duet with Charlotte (Isabel Leonard) he so forcefully pulled Charlotte back to the couch that one worried about Leonard's shoulder sockets. His voice is not large but it projects well and has plenty of ping which served him well in the climax of "Pourquoi me réveiller." Grigolo wasn't all bombast though -- in the first two acts he toned down his energy considerably and was convincing as the sensitive, introverted poet. And in the death scene his final duet with Charlotte was tender and intimate. This was a treasurable, memorable performance.

photo @ Marty Sohl
The rest of the cast for this revival was solid if unspectacular. Isabel Leonard is a beautiful woman with a basically attractive voice, and she played Charlotte as younger and more unsure of her feelings than Sophie Koch. Her French is unintelligible though -- it sounded like mush. And in the more demanding moments of Act Three there was an unsteadiness to her tone. David Bizic (a holdover from the 2014 production) continues to do wonderful work as Albert -- his open friendly face and good-natured manner gives the drama another layer of depth. Anna Christy was a pert Sophie with a rather scratchy voice. Maurizio Muraro was a likable Bailiff. Edward Gardner's conducting was low-key and unmemorable -- too bad, because Massenet's score is so full of lovely moments.

The afternoon ultimately belonged to Vittorio Grigolo, who almost singlehandedly turned this series of Werthers from a routine, tired revival into something memorable and heartbreaking. Richard Eyre's somewhat prim, Downtown-Abbey production faded completely into the background as Grigolo so dominated the opera. Grigolo was also a wonderful Romeo and his voice seems to be getting stronger every time I hear him. I look forward to hearing this exciting artist in the future. No matter what, he's never boring.

Here is a curtain call I took. By now, the Grigolo curtain call antics are an expected and beloved part of the Grigolo Show.

And here's the last 40 minutes or so of the performance. Starts with "Pourquoi me révellier" and goes all the way to the finale.


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