A Thorougly-Modern Mess Redeemed By Love

Just a quick review of Werther, unveiled Sunday afternoon at LOoC. The production’s director, Francisco Negrin, must truly hate Massenet so deeply for him to have conceived such a pointless, heartless Werther. The spare, modernist sets, designed by Louis Désiré, did nothing to alleviate Negrin’s gloomy, preposterous staging. Thankfully, the singers were in top form. While tenor Matthew Polenzani, as the love-lorn Werther, did not quite steal the show as a truly great Werther must, he nevertheless sang the role with conviction that seemed to pour effortlessly out of him without resorting to clichéd gestures. He may not have compelled the audience to follow his lead by contemplating suicide in the name of unrequited love, but he gave a performance that was genuine and believable, vocally and physically; one never forgot, in listening to Polenzani, that Werther is a poet.

It was Werther’s beloved Charlotte, however, who made an indelible impression. Mezzo Sophie Koch’s voice is tailor-made for this role, like a Chanel jacket on Anna Wintour; it has the gleam of gossamer silk so finely spun that it seems ethereal. One could almost see the twinkle in her eyes when Werther declared his undying love. Her gestures alone, contained, graceful, suggested what her heart wanted to say, to Werther, to Albert, to me. Unbelievable to think that this performance was her first-ever foray onto the American operatic stage. Baritone Craig Verm was Albert as he should be portrayed: sensitive, alert to Charlotte’s feelings towards him, or lack thereof; a thoughtful portrayal of a thankless role. Soprano Kiri Deonarine as sister Sophie was charmingly naïve; Massenet would have been entranced. The orchestra, led by Andrew Davis, was often splendid, evoking the romance and beauty of Massenet's tear-jerker of a score that had the sweeping effect of a film score reminiscent of Max Steiner at his most feverish.