Tender and tragic story of Werther by Elīna Garanča and Piotr Beczala in Paris. Opera National de Paris, January 23rd, 2016

It seems like this season for me is unconsciously dominated by French opera, thus choice to see another Werther came easy after live stream with Elīna Garanča and Marcelo Alvarez from Vienna . As I have been trying to see her in this role live for some time without any luck, latest chance missed last summer in Salzburg, then Paris came in as realistic chance also from schedule perspective, as there  was a show on Saturday – so tempting to opera travelers. Other members of the cast were tempting as well – have seen both Beczala and Tsallagova in Salzburg concert version with Gheorgiu, and their vocal performance was excellent.

All expectations were overachieved by the performance regardless of legendary production by Benoît Jacquot already seen on DVD or Mezzo, either with Jonas Kaufmann or Roberto Alagna in lead role. The staging is much more intimate and matching both musical and psychological theme compared to on-screen version. Set design by Charles Edwards combined with well- aligned and color coded costumes by Christian Gasc offers extended content to well known story besides boundaries defined by the libretto. Lights, colors and minimalism of the set decor provides clean, uncluttered environment where feelings of the protagonists can flourish. Contrast between cosy, intimate setting of Act I, dominated with family joy and sorrow, and constantly running water from the tap, compared to Act II with painful, light blue sky, Act III with empty and dark room of Charlotte’s house, indicating sorrow and sadness, while Act IV opening scene with down-sliding tiny room of Werther, descending into dark abyss of death- all the sets complement the storyline with details and hints.

As always, live performance beats any recording as energy of the audience and feeling that most people are holding their breath together with you, or girl next seat starts sobbing, all those details color your own experience. To run ahead to my own story, I should mention that thunderous applause in unison, numerous bravi and electrified enthusiasm of the audience was well deserved.

Piotr Beczala portrays dramatic and inevitable transformation of young, melancholic poet into love-stricken victim of circumstances and his own mind, becoming unhappy, tortured soul. Beczala’s singing was impressive, regardless of a few minor top notes issues, which left impression that on the particular day he was not of his top form. Those few rough patches did not impact in any way overall portrayal of character, even if I was expecting that his preference would be to focus on vocal rather than dramatic delivery. Beczala clearly portrayed effect of obsession through his facial an bodily expression which was easy readable even from 2nd balcony. He conveyed full range of emotions through his singing, coloring dramatic finale with painful  acquiescence.

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Photo: © Émilie Brouchon / OnP

Elīna Garanča confirmed that her interpretation of Charlotte is unbeatable, combining fragile balance between  nature of caring elder sister, devoted daughter and young, enamored girl growing up into passionate, but confused woman. Her vocal performance is delicious, her rich and rounded chest sound portrays inner conflict. At the same time her fresh and pure top register conveys innocence, her youthful hopes and expectations of young woman at her prime age with whole happy life ahead of her. I was most impressed by Elīna’s delivery of Act III letter scene both dramatically and vocally, and during that scene most of the audience stopped breathing.

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Photo: © Émilie Brouchon / OnP

Elena Tsallagova portrayed joyful, young sister Sophie with confidence and enthusiasm, and her clear, pure, thrilling soprano was pleasure to hear – I was very impressed by her performance in Salzburg, and now will keep following her career development with even higher interest.

Orchestra led by Giacomo Sagripanti performed energetically and enthusiastically, at the same time perfect balance has been found to support singers in the most dramatic part, cautiously aligning with emotionally charged scenes.

The Cast:

Werther: Piotr Beczala
Albert: Stéphane Degout
La Bailli:  Paul Gay
Schmidt:  Rodolphe Briand
Johann:  Lionel Lhote
Charlotte:  Elīna Garanča
Sophie:  Elena Tsallagova
Brühlmann:  Piotr Kumon
Kätchen: Pauline Texier

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