Wertherby Jules Massenet
Jan. 28, 31, Feb. 2, 4* and 5, 2012
Overflowing with yearning and heartbreaking melancholy, Massenet’s most romantic tragedy is inspired by a true story of unrequited love. The passionate James Valenti returns to star as Werther, the idealistic young poet who cannot live without love. Roxana Constantinescu, who dazzled audiences as Cinderella, returns as the object of his obsession.
*Nathaniel Peake performs the role of Werther on this date.
Sung in French with English translations projected above the stage.
Estimated run time, including one intermission, is 2 hours 23 minutes.
Dates + Performancesat Ordway. Get directions
*Section F is Partial View. Stage and/or surtitles may be obstructed from seats in this area.
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The Bailiff's house The Bailiff is teaching his children to sing Christmas songs, though it is only July. Johann and Schmidt arrive and praise their efforts while inviting their friend to the inn for a drink. Sophie enters, announcing that Charlotte is almost ready for the ball. The three men discuss Werther, who will be her escort and guardian. The young man appears to have a bright future as a diplomat in spite of his persistent melancholy. Schmidt then inquires about Albert, Charlotte's fiancé, whose exact return date is still unknown after an absence of six months. The two men leave.
Werther enters, closely studying the Bailiff's house. He listens to the children sing and observes their innocence in contrast to the bitterness of adult life. Charlotte appears in her ball gown, and the children rush around her excitedly. She prepares their evening meal as she has done since her mother's death. The Bailiff notices Werther and invites him in. His friends, Brühlmann and Käthchen, arrive soon afterwards, and all depart for the party, leaving the children in Sophie's care.
As a surprise, Albert appears, having returned unannounced, and Sophie greets him enthusiastically, assuring him that Charlotte still loves him. He is pleased and looks forward to their wedding day.
Later that evening, Werther and Charlotte return arm-in-arm, pausing in the moonlight. He praises Charlotte's beautiful soul and expresses his love. Charlotte reveals that she promised to marry Albert on her mother's deathbed and cannot break her oath after such a long engagement. They then learn of Albert's homecoming and Werther is devastated.
The village square at Wetzlar the following September Johann and Schmidt sit at an inn, passing the Sunday afternoon with drink. They observe Charlotte and Albert as they prepare for the pastor's golden wedding anniversary. Werther also sees the happily married couple and is anguished by the affection he still holds for Charlotte. Albert tries to comfort him, sensing his loss. In stark contrast, an elated Sophie has gathered flowers and joyfully invites Werther to a dance at the pastor's residence. Werther sees Charlotte and calls out her name. She affirms she still belongs to another, and if he cannot bear to accept those circumstances, he must leave forever. She then waivers and tells him to return at Christmas. Werther rushes off, disappointing both Sophie and Charlotte, and Albert perceives his new wife's lingering love.
Albert's house on Christmas Eve Charlotte agonizes over Werther's letters of loneliness and despair. Even after several months of marriage, she still cannot forget her desire. Sophie enters and observes her sister's tearful state. As Albert is away, she suggests Charlotte return home to celebrate Christmas with her devoted. After some hesitation, she agrees to join then shortly as Sophie departs.
Werther arrives as promised, and they both recall better days. Again he professes his love, and Charlotte's resolve begins to falter. She rushes out of the room, saying goodbye for the last time. After Werther leaves, Albert returns, having heard rumors of Werther's presence in the village. He sees his wife crying and interrogates her further. A servant enters with a note – Werther wishes to borrow their dueling pistols. Albert insists Charlotte fetch them and give them to the servant. Once Albert has left the room, Charlotte grabs her cloak and runs outside, hoping she is not too late.
Werther's study Werther lies on the floor, mortally wounded from a self-inflicted bullet. Charlotte hastens to his side and demands they get help. He claims that it will be to no avail. Charlotte expresses her genuine love and blames herself for adhering to duty rather than following her heart. She kisses him, and he dies surrounded by the voices of happy children singing.
|music by Jules Massenet|
|libretto by Édouard Blau,|
|Paul Milliet and Georges Hartmann|
|based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's|
|Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774)|
|February 16, 1892|
|sung in French with English translations|
|stage director||Kevin Newbury|
|set designer||Allen Moyer|
|costume designer||Jessica Jahn|
|lighting designer||D. M. Wood|
|Werther, a poet||James Valenti *
|Nathaniel Peake **|
|Albert, her betrothed||Gabriel Preisser|
|Sophie, Charlotte's sister||Angela Mortellaro|
|Le Bailli, Charlotte's father||Joseph Beutel|
|Schmidt, his friend||John Robert Lindsey|
|Johann, his friend||Rodolfo Nieto
|Brühlmann, a young man||Mark Thomas|
|Käthchen, a young woman||Alison Schardin|
|the Bailli's children, villagers, guests,|
|the neighborhoood of Wetzlar on the|
|outskirts of Frankfurt|
* performs January 28, 31, February 2, 5
|** performs February 4|
Joseph Beutel (Le Bailli)
Joseph Beutel, bass, joins Minnesota Opera’s Resident Artist program after spending the summer as a Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Artist, where he covered Méphistophélès in Faust and the Catholic Priest in The Last Savage. Previous roles have included the Impresario/Direttore in the young artist production of Viva La Mamma! at Seattle Opera; Benoit and Alcindoro in La bohème for South Texas Lyric Opera; Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, Mustafà in L’italiana in Algeri, Simone in Gianni Schicchi, Le Roi in Cendrillon and Herr Reich in Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor for IU Opera Theatre; and the Sergeant in Pirates of Penzance for Western Michigan University.
Mr. Beutel was a district finalist of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2011, won the Sullivan Foundation Career Development Award in November and received the Palm Beach Opera Competition Encouragement Award in 2010 and 2011. For Minnesota Opera this season, he will appear as the British Major in Silent Night, Le Bailli in Werther, Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor and the Bonze in Madame Butterfly. This summer he sings Lamoral in Arabella for Santa Fe Opera.
Christoph Campestrini (conductor)
Conductor Christoph Campestrini resides in Vienna and received his musical education in the United States. He studied in New York City at the Juilliard School while simultaneously majoring in philosophy and languages at Columbia University. In addition to German and English, he speaks Italian, French, Russian and Spanish.
Following his studies at Juilliard and Columbia, he was the only European chosen to be admitted to the founding class of the prestigious Yale University Affiliate Artists Conducting Program. While at Yale, he worked with prominent conductors such as Lorin Maazel, Wolfgang Sawallisch and Kurt Sanderling.
After his return to Europe he started an active international career, conducting more than 80 Symphony Orchestras on all 5 continents. Among them are the London Symphony Orchestra, Deutsche Sinfonie Orchester Berlin, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Stuttgart Philharmonic, Cologne Radio Symphony, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Moscow Radio Symphony, Prague Radio Symphony, Prague Philharmonia, Vienna Radio Symphony, Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg, Orchestre Lamoureux Paris, Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, Queensland Philharmonic, Israel Sinfonietta and many others. He has worked with such soloists as Gidon Kremer, Julian Rachlin, Rudolf Buchbinder, Sharon Kam, Julia Fischer and Emmanuel Pahud.
Equally in demand as an accomplished opera conductor, Campestrini has served as principal conductor at the prestigious Essen Aalto Musiktheater and the Essen Philharmonic Orchestra, where he conducted more than 15 different operas in over 100 performances. Other opera credits include the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf (Die Zauberflöte), Opera Lyra Ottawa (Le nozze di Figaro), Austin Lyric Opera (Don Giovanni), and Carinthian Summer Festival, Cremona Opera, National Opera of Vietnam, Zagreb National Opera and the Hong Kong Opera Academy.
Season 2011–2012 brings a Beethoven Gala with the Indianapolis Symphony and Lang Lang as soloist, his debut with the Rochester Philharmonic, and a production of Massenet’s Werther in the pit of the Minnesota Opera.
Among last season’s North American highlights figured engagements with the Vancouver Symphony, Toledo Symphony, Grand Rapids Symphony, and Quebec Symphony, in addition to an appearance at the Round Top Festival. He also appeared for a New Year’s concert at the Teatro Regio in Torino, and led the Sinfonieorchester Wuppertal and the Nürnberg Symphony as well as L'Orchestre philharmonique Royal de Liège at Vienna’s Musikverein and the opening concert of the Carinthian Summer Festival.
During the 2009–2010 season he returned to the Sakai City Opera with Massenet's Cendrillon, debuted with the Indianapolis Symphony, the Orquesta Sinfonica de Navarra (Spain), the Hungarian Radio Symphony Budapest and returned for re-engagements with orchestras such as Calgary Philharmonic, Slovak Philharmonic and Brno Philharmonic. He also made a return to Yale Opera with Le nozze di Figaro.
The conductor’s 2008–2009 season debuts included Opera Lyra Ottawa in performances of Le nozze di Figaro with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in the pit, as well as Sakai City Opera in Osaka, Japan with a performance of Rusalka. The National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan was another debut. Additionally, he was re-engaged to the San Antonio, Toledo and Oregon symphonies, the latter in a subscription series. The 2007–2008 season was perhaps one of Campestrini’s most important seasons yet. Major debuts with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Houston Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, Florida Orchestra, San Antonio Symphony, Huntsville Symphony, the Texas Music Festival, The International Festival-Institute at Round-Top and the Seoul Philharmonic figured alongside re-engagements with the Colorado Symphony and Santa Rosa Symphony.
In Europe, he maintains a permanent relationship with the Czech State Philharmonic Brno, which he conducts in several programs each season as well as on tour. In addition, he works with orchestras such as the Camerata Salzburg, Bruckner Orchestra Linz and the Slovak Philharmonic.
Roxana Constantinescu (Charlotte)
Roxana Constantinescu had already enjoyed several earlier competition successes in Belgium-Concours de Chant Verviers, Italy-Competizione Tito Schipa, Romania-Ionel Perlea and Mihail Jora Competitions or Germany-Paul and Helga Hohen Competition, but it was as the winner of the prestigious ARD Music Competition-Munich in September 2006 that her international career was launched. Ms Constantinescu subsequently joined the Ensemble at Vienna State Opera in the 2007–2008 season making her house debut as Cherubino–Le nozze di Figaro, conducted by Seiji Ozawa.
In Vienna, where Roxana remained in the Ensemble through the end of the 2009–2010 season, further roles and experience to date have included Zerlina in Don Giovanni; Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia; Siébel in Faust; Stéphano in Roméo et Juliette; Lola in Cavalleria rusticana; Nicklausse in Les contes d’Hoffmann; Dryade in Ariadne auf Naxos and Fjodor in Boris Godunov, among others.
The 2010–2011 season’s highlights include the debut as Donna Elvira in a new production of Don Giovanni at the Vienna State Opera, the title role in La Cenerentola in a new staging at the Minnesota Opera, a company debut with the Dallas Opera and new productions of Oberon and Così fan tutte at Theatre du Capitole in Toulouse.
This season features Miss Constantinescu’s debut with the Los Angeles Opera as Despina in Così fan tutte, her first appearance at the Deutsche Oper Berlin with Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, a new production of Werther with Minnesota Opera, a new staging of Les contes d’Hoffmann as Nicklausse at Theater an der Wien and a tour in South America.
After her prize-winning success in Italy, Miss Constantinescu was invited to make her debut as Angelina in La Cenerentola at the Teatro Politeama di Lecce and went on to appear as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia at Austria’s Tirol Festival. It was also as Rosina that Roxana enjoyed great acclaim in Cologne when she took over the opening night at short notice in September 2007.
Other operatic appearances to date have included Ramiro in La finta giardiniera and Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Munich’s Prinzregententheater; Conception in L’heure espagnole at Italy’s Teatro Diego Fabbri; Holofernes in Juditha Triumphans at Munich’s House of Art and Prince Orlovsky in Die Fledermaus at both Bucharest’s State Opera and Essen’s Philharmonie.
As a concert singer, Roxana Constantinescu is in high demand and had recently her concert debut at Carnegie Hall and Chicago’s Symphony Hall singing Stravinsky’s Pulcinella with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Pierre Boulez. The subsequent compact disc recording was nominated for a Grammy awards.
Roxana enjoys an ongoing relationship with Helmuth Rilling and has performed with him around the world in music by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn, and also presented the world premiere of Messiah by Sven David Sandström at the Oregon Bach Festival. Other conductors with whom Roxana Constantinescu has enjoyed collaborations include Gerd Albrecht, Marco Armiliato, Bertrand de Billy, Paolo Carignani, Dan Ettinger, Adam Fischer, Manfred Honeck, Graeme Jenkins, Sir Neville Marriner, Kirill Petrenko, Christoph Poppen, Yannik Nézet-Séguin, Peter Schneider, Marco Zambelli, Sebastian Weigle and Franz Welser-Möst.
Also an avid recitalist Roxana Constantinescu has performed in Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Vienna’s Musikverein, Bucharest, Frankfurt, Munich and Washington as well as extensively in the Far East. Even at this early stage in her career, Roxana Constantinescu has already participated in numerous recordings for Haenssler Classic, OEHMS Classics, SWR, CSO-Resound, Artmode Records, Weltbild and Carus Verlag.
Born in Bucharest, Roxana Constantinescu first studied percussion and piano at the George Enescu Music Academy, continuing with voice at the National University of Music. In 2003, she was awarded an Erasmus Scholarship to attend Vienna’s prestigious University of Music and Fine Arts, and a DAAD scholarship enabled her to attend postgraduate studies at the University of Music and Theater in Munich with Edith Wiens.
Jessica Jahn (costume designer)
Jessica Jahn danced professionally in New York City before beginning a career in design. She has had the opportunity to work on various projects with directors such as Tina Landau, Kevin Newbury, Robert O’Hara and Carl Andress, artist Michael Counts, as well as writers Eisa Davis, Norah Ephron and Charles Busch.
New York: Monodramas at New York City Opera; Love, Loss and What I Wore at the Westside Theatre; Die Mommie Die! at New World Stages (winner of the Lucille Lortel Award).
Regional: In the Red and Brown Water at the Alliance Theatre, La Cenerentola at Glimmerglass Opera; Il trovatore, Roberto Devereux and Maria Stuarda at Minnesota Opera; Life Is A Dream (world premiere) at Santa Fe Opera; and Die Leibe der Danae at Bard Summerscape.
Upcoming: Maria Stuarda at Houston Grand Opera, La bohème at Central City Opera and Anna Bolena at Minnesota Opera.
John Robert Lindsey (Schmidt)
Colorado native tenor John Robert Lindsey is a recent graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder where he earned his Master of Music in vocal performance under the tutelage of Julie Simson. Past engagements include Tenor Soloist in the Messiah by Handel, Sam Polk in Susannah by Floyd, the character of Stage Manager in Our Town by Rorem and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni by Mozart. Mr. Lindsey was met with numerous successes in competitions in the recent past. He was a regional finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions for the past two years, as well as taking third place in 2010 and first place in 2011 at the prestigious Denver Lyric Opera Guild competition.
For Minnesota Opera’s 2011–2012 season, Mr. Lindsey will appear as Jonathan Dale in Silent Night, Schmidt in Werther, Normanno in Lucia di Lammermoor and Goro in Madame Butterfly.
Angela Mortellaro (Sophie)
Soprano Angela Mortellaro returns to the Minnesota Opera's Resident Artist program for a second season, singing the roles of Despina in Così fan tutte, Madeleine in Silent Night, Sophie in Werther, the title role in the second cast of Lucia di Lammermoor and Kate Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly. Last season, she was seen as Amore in Orpheus and Eurydice, Clorinda in Cinderella and Annina in La traviata . Ms. Mortellaro has sung the role of Gretel in Hansel and Gretel with both PORTOpera and Sarasota Opera. She was a Caramoor Opera Bel Canto Young Artist and a Chautauqua Opera Apprentice Artist, where she sang Edith in The Pirates of Penzance and Anna Gomez in The Consul. For Orlando Opera Company, Ms. Mortellaro sang Sister Genovieffa in Suor Angelica, Sally in Die Fledermaus and Clorinda in La Cenerentola. The soprano also appeared as Clorinda for Aspen Opera Theatre as well as Frasquita in its production of Carmen. Internationally, she has performed Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro for Operafestival di Roma.
Ms. Mortellaro has a master of music degree in vocal performance from Rice University (Houston, Texas), where she sang Diana in La Calisto, Gretel in Hansel and Gretel, Sandrina in La finta giardiniera and the Governess in The Turn of the Screw. She completed her bachelor of music degree at the University of Wisconsin (Whitewater).
Allen Moyer (set designer)
Recently: Orfeo ed Euridice for the Metropolitan Opera, directed by Mark Morris, The Last Savage (scenery and costumes) and The Tales of Hoffmann for Santa Fe Opera, The Death of Klinghoffer for Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Virginia (scenery and costumes) for the Wexford Festival, Nixon in China for the Canadian Opera Company, plus many productions for San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Scottish Opera, Washington National Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Welsh National Opera, L’Accademia di Santa Cecilia (Rome), Seattle Opera and several productions for New York City Opera, including Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson’s The Mother of Us All, Il trittico, Il viaggio a Reims and La bohème (also broadcast on Live from Lincoln Center). Mr. Moyer also designed the premiere of the Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie’s The Grapes of Wrath, Norma, Il trovatore and Il barbiere di Siviglia for the Minnesota Opera, the Delibes ballet Sylvia for The San Francisco Ballet and Romeo and Juliet: On Motifs of Shakespeare (for the Mark Morris Dance Group), both choreographed by Mr. Morris.
Broadway: Lysistrata Jones, the musical Grey Gardens (Tony/Drama Desk/Outer Critic’s Circle nominations and the 2006 Hewes Award from the American Theater Wing), After Miss Julie, Little Dog Laughed, Twelve Angry Men (including the national tour) and The Constant Wife. Extensive theater credits include productions for Playwright’s Horizons, The Public Theater/NYSF, Second Stage, The Roundabout Theatre, Signature Theatre Company, The Drama Dept., the Guthrie, Manhattan Theater Club and Lincoln Center Theater Company.
Upcoming: Die Fledermaus (Canadian Opera Company), Alice in Wonderland (Opera Theatre of St. Louis).
Moyer is the recipient of a 2006 OBIE Award for sustained excellence.
Kevin Newbury (stage director)
Kevin Newbury is a theater and opera director based in New York City. Recent opera credits include Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux (Minnesota Opera), Die Liebe der Danae (Bard Summerscape), Virginia (Wexford Opera Festival), Life is a Dream and Falstaff (Santa Fe Opera), Eugene Onegin (Opera Theatre of St. Louis), Roberto Devereux (L'Opéra de Montréal), El niño (San Francisco Symphony), Hänsel und Gretel (Virginia Opera), Rappahannock County (Virginia Arts Festival, National Tour), La Cenerentola (Glimmerglass Opera) and Bernstein’s Mass (Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Grammy nomination). Recent New York theater credits include Candy and Dorothy (GLAAD Media Award Winner, Drama Desk Nominee), The Second Tosca and Kiss and Cry (GLAAD Nominee).
Upcoming engagements include the world premieres of The Gospel According to Mary Magdelene (San Francisco Opera), Oscar (Santa Fe Opera and Opera Compay of Philadelphia), Doubt (Minnesota Opera), Oceanic Verses (River-to-River Festival/NYC, Barbican/UK) and Fellow Travelers (NYC). Other upcoming projects include Maria Stuarda (Houston Grand Opera), Roméo at Juliette (Palm Beach Opera), Galileo Galilei (Portland Opera), La bohème (Central City Opera), Anna Bolena (Minnesota Opera) and the film Mothra is Waiting.
Rodolfo Nieto (Johann)
Werther marks bass-baritone Rodolfo Nieto’s third return to the Minnesota Opera stage since completing his two-year stint as one of the Opera’s Resident Artists. Earlier this season, he performed the role of Scottish Soldier in the world premiere of Silent Night. Mr. Nieto’s roles during his seasons as a Resident Artist included the Third Inquisitor and Spanish Captain in Casanova’s Homecoming, the Friend of Nottingham in Roberto Devereux, Colline in La bohème, the First Guard in Salome and, most notably, Joseph in Wuthering Heights.
Last summer, Mr. Nieto performed the role of Guglielmo in Così fan tutte with the Green Mountain Opera Festival. For Cedar Rapids Opera Theater, he has appeared as Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte (2009), the Imperial Commissioner in Madame Butterfly (2006) and Pooh-Bah in The Mikado (2005). During the 2008 season, Mr. Nieto was an Opera Colorado Young Artist, where he sang the roles of Don Magnifico and Alidoro in Cinderella and Godofredo in La Curandera.
Nathaniel Peake (Werther)
– performs February 4
A 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Winner, American tenor Nathaniel Peake has been admired for “his ringing tone and effortless phrasing” (San Francisco Chronicle). The Lansing State Journal awarded him with a “Thespie” award for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of the title role of Bernstein’s Candide. In a recent production of L’amico Fritz, Mr. Peake was lauded for his “brilliant performance in the title role, deploying a clarion tone that moved as deftly through the graceful ease of Act I as through the more emotionally urgent writing of the latter acts.” (San Francisco Chronicle).
An exciting season for 2011–2012 includes a return to the San Francisco Opera as Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, a new production by Jun Kaneko, conducted by Rory Macdonald, and debuts with Seattle Opera as Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Edgardo in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at Minnesota Opera. Mr. Peake will return to Syracuse Opera in a role debut as Alfredo in Verdi’s La traviata and to Wolf Trap Opera for his title role debut in Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann and as Pirelli in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.
Nathaniel Peake began the 2010–2011 season performing Pinkerton in a new production of Madama Butterfly at Houston Grand Opera as well as Scaramuccio in Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, Arturo in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. He also presented a recital at the Morgan Library with legendary mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick as part of The George London Foundation recital series. In the summer of 2010, Mr. Peake was seen on the stages Wolf Trap Opera as Sultan Soliman in Mozart’s Zaïde, Albazar in Rossini’s Il turco in Italia and Snout in Britten’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. He also performed in concert with the National Symphony Orchestra.
Gabriel Preisser (Albert)
Praised for his power and presence both as a singer and actor by the Houston Chronicle, Gabriel Preisser originally hails from the small town of Apopka, Florida. Most recently, he received rave reviews for his performance of Lt. Gordon in the world premiere of Kevin Puts’ Silent Night with Minnesota Opera and will be reprising the same role with the Opera Company of Philadelphia next year. Indeed, Mr. Preisser has made a name for himself performing new works with composers such as Daniel Catán, Daron Hagen, Ricky Ian Gordon and Robert Aldridge. He was the title role in Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry, Tom Joad in Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath, Riolobo in Catan’s Florencia en el Amazonas and Antonio in Hagen’s New York Stories. Opera News made note of his “beautifully sung and beautifully portrayed” Yamadori for Kentucky Opera’s Madame Butterfly last fall, and his Masetto at Utah Festival Opera was played “with a delicious mixture of jealous outrage and bewilderment … commanding the spotlight with vocal talent.” Mr. Preisser is truly comfortable on any stage and in a wide range of repertoire from Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia to Prince Ottokar in Der Freischütz. Other major roles include Danilo in The Merry Widow, the title role of Don Giovanni, John Brooke in Adamo’s Little Women, Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, Achille in Giulio Cesare, the Shoe Salesman and Puppet in Argento’s Postcard from Morroco and Ubalde in Lully’s Armide with such companies as Des Moines Metro Opera, Mercury Baroque, Utah Festival Opera, Pensacola Opera and the Moores Opera Center. Upcoming he can be seen as Yamadori in Madama Butterfly with Minnesota Opera, Bob Baker in Wonderful Town with Skylark Opera, and as the baritone soloist for Mississippi Valley Orchestra’s Carmina burana.
Mr. Preisser was honored as a district winner in the 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Competition and won the American finals of the International Lirico Concorso Competition this past summer. He graduated summa cum laude from Florida State University with a double major in vocal performance and commercial music and completed a Masters in Voice at the University of Houston
James Valenti (Werther)
– performs January 28, 31, February 2, 5
American tenor James Valenti has been hailed for having a voice of Italianate beauty, for his handsome stage presence, ardent singing and for his elegant musicianship in performances with the leading opera companies of the world. He studied at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and made his professional debut at the age of 25 as Rodolfo in La bohème (Rome Opera). Other performances include Alfredo Germont in La traviata (Royal Opera House London and Japan Tour with Anna Netrebko, Simon Keenlyside and Antonio Pappano, Metropolitan Opera New York with Angela Gheorghiu and Thomas Hampson, Canadian Opera Company Toronto, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Salzburg Festival), Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto (Maggio Musicale Florence, Dallas Opera, Palm Beach Opera), Rodolfo (La Scala Milan with Gustavo Dudamel, Dresden Semperoper, Miami, Santander Spain, Tokyo, Minnesota Opera), Werther (Opéra de Lyon, Tokyo), Faust (Trieste), Lt. Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly (Royal Opera House filmed in 3D on DVD, Paris Opéra – Bastille, Genoa, Marseilles, Chicago, Vancouver, San Francisco and on a PBS Live from Lincoln Center telecast), Roméo (Minnesota Opera) and Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur (Washington DC). James has recorded for Virgin/EMI Classics with Ms. Gheorghiu.
Considered one of the brightest rising stars of his generation, James was the winner of the prestigious 2010 Richard Tucker Award and 2009 Maria Callas Award. Plans include concerts in Toronto, Copenhagen and St. Petersburg, Russia, Alfredo (Royal Opera House London with Marina Poplavskaya and Leo Nucci, Bavarian State Opera Munich, Dallas Opera), Faust (Royal Opera House London with Rene Pape and Dimitri Hvorostovsky), Werther (Minnesota Opera) and Lucia di Lammermoor (Opera Australia Sydney). He looks forward to future debuts in Zurich, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Santa Fe Opera and a return to the Met.
D.M. Wood (lighting designer)
D. M. Wood’s recent design credits include Hänsel und Gretel (Virginia Opera), Il trittico (Royal Opera House – Covent Garden), Die Liebe der Danae (Bard Summerscape), co-design for the world premiere of Anna Nicole (Royal Opera House – Covent Garden), Moskva, Cheremushki (Long Beach Opera), Green Sneakers, Orpheus and Euridice and Glory Denied (Urban Arias, Washington, D.C.), Mary Stuart, Roberto Devereux, Il barbiere di Siviglia and Il trovatore (Minnesota Opera); Roberto Devereux (L’Opéra de Montréal), Annie Get Your Gun (co-design: Young Vic, London), La Cenerentola (Glimmerglass Opera), Die Zauberflöte (Houston Grand Opera); The Sound of a Voice/Hotel of Dreams (Long Beach Opera), Les Miserables (Copenhagen, Denmark), Tosca (Canadian Opera Company), La Cleopatra/Oedipus Rex (Operahaus Graz, Austria), Tristan und Isolde (Savonlinna Opera, Finland) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Lyric Opera of Kansas City).
Ms. Wood’s work in theater includes designs for American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.), Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF), Primary Stages (NYC), NYSF – the Public Theatre, Children’s Theater Company (Minneapolis), Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Baltimore Centerstage, Trinity Repertory Company and the Philadelphia Theatre Company.
Upcoming designs include Roméo et Juliette (Palm Beach Opera), the world premiere of Wild Swans (A.R.T. and the Young Vic, London) and Anna Bolena (Minnesota Opera).
Werther stands alone in Jules Massenet’s wide-ranging scope of operas. The appearance of a male protagonist submerged in the interior, realistic sobriety of the Germanic Sturm und Drang is unique to the composer’s typically glittering and vibrant artifice emblematic of fin-de-siècle France. The opera’s gestation was a long one. In a letter dated September 25, 1880 to fellow composer Paul Lacombe, Massenet expressed his wish to adapt Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther). Under the watchful eye of publisher Georges Hartmann, librettists Paul Milliet and Édouard Blau spent five years fitting and revising the text – their resulting product stands out among the volumes of typically lackluster French libretti. Milliet avoided the typical stagy plots of an earlier generation in favor of scenes with intense passions unrelated to dramatic events. When the project stalled, Blau was brought in to finish the job, and to reinvigorate Massenet’s interest in the piece, Hartmann waylaid the composer’s intention to set Henry Murger’s Scènes de la vie de bohème (later immortalized by Giacomo Puccini and Ruggero Leoncavallo). At the same time, the wily publisher arranged a pilgrimage to Bayreuth to see Wagner’s Parsifal in 1886, with a side trip to Wetzlar, where Goethe had conceived his literary masterpiece. The composer was duly impressed by both events.
The opera was completed within a year of their return to Paris, and Massenet lobbied for a premiere at the city’s second theater of rank, the Opéra-Comique. Though already accomplished at programming serious works (Bizet’s Carmen would be the most notorious example), the impresario Léon Carvalho found the subject too somber, and a deadly theater fire in 1887 put the work in limbo. Werther would languish on the shelf for several more years while an earlier work, Manon, took Europe by storm. It was Manon’s triumph at Vienna’s Hofoper that would draw attention to Massenet’s “German” opera, which was finally staged in 1892. Werther would be mounted at the temporarily relocated Opéra-Comique the following year and soon found success throughout Europe.
While Massenet was able to compose in the comfortable domesticity of belle époque France, an era blissfully ignorant of the political stirrings that would lead to World War i, Goethe had lived quite a different existence over a century before. Just after the Seven Years War (1756–1763), another pan-European conflict that had shadowed over Germany’s 300 fragmented dukedoms, principalities and free states, a young Goethe was studying law in Strasbourg. Around him, a fractured cultural scene began to solidify as German literature finally came to the fore. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, in the formation of the bürgerlisches Trauerspiel, Christoph Martin Wieland, in his translations of Shakespeare, and Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock in his atmospheric poetry were the foremost writers. Dilatory in his studies, Goethe fell under the spell of Johann Gottfried Herder and soon garnered the attention of a few promising literary geniuses. Under the prevailing malaise of the Weltschmerz, they schooled a movement, later to be named Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress), after a play by Friedrich Maximilian Klinger, one of Goethe’s disciples.
Sturm und Drang was an impassioned precursor to the Romantic period, defying the refined elegance and intellectualism of the previous age, and instead emphasizing strong emotion, the independence of a generally misunderstood hero and a holy communion with the forces of nature. The movement viewed humanity as most genuine when yielding to its base desires. Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774), along with another work, Die Räuber (The Robbers, 1781) by Friedrich von Schiller epitomized the genre, which was extinguished in less than a decade, after which Goethe and Schiller entered into a period of restrained classicism. Many operatic masterpieces owe a debt to these authors, namely Faust (set by Charles Gounod); Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Mignon, set by Ambroise Thomas); Egmont (incidental music set by Ludwig von Beethoven); Maria Stuart (set by Gaetano Donizetti); and Die Jungfrau von Orleans (Giovanna d’Arco), Die Räuber (I masnadieri), Don Carlos and Kabale und Liebe (Luisa Miller, all four set by Giuseppe Verdi).
Die Leiden des jungen Werthers is a genuine instance of art imitating life, for Goethe drew upon his own experiences. As a young man, he fell madly in love with Charlotte Buff, the fiancée of Johann Christian Kestner, a young diplomat. Eventually realizing his one-sided affection for the young woman would not amount to anything, he left Wetzlar, devastated and suicidal. He maintained a correspondence with Kestner, from whom he soon learned that a mutual acquaintance, Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem, had in fact taken his own life over his own unrequited love for a married woman. Goethe was overwhelmed by the incident and exorcised his demons by writing a novel, completed in just one month.
Goethe embraced the epistolary form familiar to the 18th century, but modified the genre – where written messages would normally be exchanged, Werther’s account is decidedly one-sided. Through letters mostly written to a friend (Wilhelm), the reader is caught within Werther’s claustrophobic world, a microcosm that begins with a search for identity through love and nature, and ends with an irrational decline into a suicidal abyss. The work takes on qualities of a Shakespearian dramatic monologue.
In addition to his obsession with Charlotte, Werther comments on the primitive simplicity of children, peasants and nature:
The chief charm of this spot consists in two linden trees, spreading their enormous branches over the little green before the church, which is entirely surrounded by peasants’ cottages, barns and homesteads. I have seldom seen a place so retired and peaceable; and there often I have my table and chair brought out from the little inn, and drink my coffee there and read my Homer.
Homer’s Odyssey is his anchor, and a switch to the more stormy Ossian midway in the novel marks the first signs of his mental collapse. Werther effortlessly embodies the quintessential romantic, a poète manque alienated from the materialistic world, self-absorbed and alone. Hardly an average man, Werther’s own name denotes that he is better than most (Wert in German is translated as “worth”).
The narrative starts innocently enough with Werther’s seemingly platonic relationship with Charlotte under Albert’s tacit approval. They share literary interests, and all three spend most evenings together as the love triangle settles into a comfortable routine. The two men become close friends, although the cool and collected Albert is the complete antithesis of the passionate, irrational Werther. Eventually unable to control his feelings for Charlotte, Werther unselfishly leaves for an unnamed city. There he tries to be more like Albert, taking a position in a diplomatic mission and soon dating a Fräulein. But the envoy doesn’t take to Werther’s temperament, and he is snubbed by the aristocratic circle. Where he had once been the intellectual and financial superior of the village peasants, he now feels the weight of a hierarchal society.
So Werther heads back to the simple village, but finds everything has changed. The trees he once so adored have been felled by the new pastor’s wife. The fields where he and Charlotte used to roam freely are flooded with water and a child he had sketched has died. Werther encounters two individuals who detail similarly portentous events. A Bauernbursch has fallen in love with his employer, a widow mildly receptive to his affections. Her brother fears the loss of her inheritance and has the boy dismissed when his pursuit goes too far. The Bauernbursch murders his replacement, and Werther advocates for his defense at trial to no avail. Werther also meets Heinrich, madly trying to gather flowers in the fall leaves for his lover. He learns the insane man once worked for the bailiff and was attracted to Charlotte, who rebuffed his advances. The parallel stories define the boundaries of acceptability for love and mirror the potential consequences of Werther’s own unrestrained affections. The weight of these events propels the romantic hero further into the deep, black hole of depression.
Worst of all, Charlotte and Albert are now married, and this fires his passion beyond its bounds. Charlotte, fearing to be alone with Werther, tries to surround herself with supervisory friends, and keeps him in abeyance by playing the clavichord. Albert is increasingly annoyed, and when Werther asks to borrow the two dueling pistols for a “journey” he is about to take, a cowardly Albert gives him both, knowing he will not have to face the opposing shot. Werther takes this as his unspoken approval for his suicide. He chooses the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year (a time pregnant with pagan and Christian associations), and fires a bullet into his forehead. The young man does not expire instantly, convulsing unconsciously for twelve hours, his lungs rattling with death. An open copy of Lessing’s Emilia Galotti is observed in the death scene, a detail noted in Kestner’s true account of Jerusalem’s last days (Lessing’s heroine takes her own life in a gesture of assisted suicide in order to save her honor). Since he has a committed mortal sin, Werther is not buried in consecrated ground, as the final lines of the novel indicate:
At twelve o’clock Werther breathed his last. The presence of the steward, and the precautions he had adopted, prevented a disturbance; and that night, at the hour of eleven, he caused the body to be interred in the place which Werther had selected for himself. The steward and his sons followed the corpse to the grave. Albert was unable to accompany them. Charlotte’s life was despaired of. The body was carried by laborers. No priest attended.
How are these details revealed? At one point close to the end, without warning the narrative shifts from Werther’s inner voice to an objective editor, who sifts through his final papers. Though it feels Werther is speaking from the grave, it appears some third unknown party (and we know it is not Wilhelm) charts out the chaos of his final, dark days in a dry, clinical report. A few remaining letters reveal Werther’s damaged state:
How her image haunts me! Waking or asleep, she fills my entire soul! Soon as I close my eyes, here, in my brain, where all the nerves of vision are concentrated, her dark eyes are imprinted. Here – I do not know how to describe it: but, if I shut my eyes, hers are immediately before me: dark as an abyss they open upon me, and absorb my senses.
The widespread fame of Goethe’s novel actually made the taking of one’s own life (or verging on it) a fashionable image – the “Werther effect” is still used in psychology today in the discussion of imitative suicide. On the positive side, the novel’s immediate and overwhelming success created an economic boom for Werthérie – young men began to adopt Werther’s habit of dressing in a blue top coat, yellow vest, buff trousers and short black boots, and commemorative merchandise was struck in the form of etched dishware, silhouettes and perfume.
Werther continued to hold its place in popular literature, yielding many dramas and parodies. Two musical adaptations date from the 1790s, an opera by Rodolphe Kreutzer (Charlotte et Werther) and a melologo by Gaetano Pugnani, but there was little more interest on the lyric stage until Massenet. He and his librettists had to take some drastic steps to make Goethe’s piece stage-worthy and a little more appealing to their bourgeois audience. They popularize and unify the piece from beginning to end with singing children, moving the final scene a few days forward to Christmas Eve. Out of Werther’s love of Ossian poetry, they were able to craft his Act i aria “Ô Nature, pleine de grâce.” Though very few letters to Charlotte exist in Goethe’s original, the creators extrapolated her tearful Act iii letter scene out of the obvious notion that she would have received many of them in his absence. In the opera, we see the rational Albert’s rapid transition from amiable to vaguely suspicious to coldhearted as he orders Charlotte to send Werther the pistols. In Goethe’s original, he remains his friend to the very end. Charlotte does not visit Werther as he lies dying, but this poignant scene, making up an entire act, was impossible to resist as a final operatic gesture.
Part of Werther’s complexity and lasting interest is a contrast between light and dark – the happiness of children, the comic relief of Schmidt and Johann’s drinking song, Sophie’s frothy ariette, the festivities of the pastor’s golden anniversary – all characteristics expected by Paris’ theatrical crowd. Still, they were puzzled at the French premiere by the sharp contrast of idyllic youth with the gravity of adult life and the juxtaposition of sin with sanctimony. As a result, Werther was slow to gain acceptance. Still grappling with their first complete glimpses of Wagner’s works at the Opéra in the final decade of the 19th century, frivolously light-minded viewers were unable to see Werther’s true depth as a one-sided Liebestod, an ever-worsening love drama that rushes inevitably toward its dire conclusion.
b St. Etienne, May 12, 1842; d
Jules Massenet was the most prominent and prolific composer of French opera in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with over 30 operas to his credit. Born the twelfth child in a typical bourgeois provincial family, Jules first studied piano with his mother. His skills were sufficient to be accepted by the Paris Conservatoire, where in 1859, he won first prize for piano performance. He spent his early adulthood giving lessons, providing entertainment at local cafés and playing timpani in the orchestra pits of the major opera houses.
Massenet studied composition with Ambroise Thomas, a celebrated composer of an earlier generation whose most significant works were Mignon (1866) and Hamlet (1868). Jules won the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1863 (with Hector Berlioz’ encouragement) and met Charles Garnier (a former prix winner who would design the Paris and Monte Carlo Opéras) as well as a newly ordained Franz Liszt while residing at the students’ Italian abode, the Villa Medici. Liszt introduced him to his future wife, Louise-Constance de Gressy, then an aspiring piano student.
A requirement for winners of the Prix de Rome was to compose a one-act opera for the Opéra-Comique. This would be Massenet’s first staged work, La grand’tante (1867), coinciding with the Exposition Universelle, which would also yield Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlos, Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette and Jacques Offenbach’s La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein. Massenet’s further attempts at opera in the years that followed were fruitless as cultural city life was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War (1870– 1871) and the siege of
Like several other composers of his day, Massenet’s abilities had the good fortune to attract the attention of Pauline Viardot, a mezzo-soprano from the immensely talented García family (the composer would remember her from the days she sang Gluck’s Orphée at the Théâtre-Lyrique when he was a pit musician). She promoted his oratorio, Marie-Magdeleine, singing the title role. The work premiered in 1873 at the Théâtre de l’Odéon, and later, during Lent in repertory with Verdi’s Requiem, conducted by the grand master himself at the Opéra-Comique (the theater’s then impresario, Camille de Locle was a close friend and collaborator).
In 1876, Massenet’s Orientalist opera La roi de
In the fickle music business of the late 19th century and eclipsed by a sudden public interest in Wagner, Paris’ leading composers were not necessarily guaranteed an open door at the Opéra or even the Opéra-Comique, so they had to be creative in pursuing other houses. Massenet would be lucky and was afforded auspicious premieres of his next few operas at either of these houses: Manon, based on the novel by Abbé Prévost (1884), Le Cid (1885), based on the play by Guillén de Castro y Bellís, Esclarmonde (1889), Le mage (1891), Thaïs (1894) and Le portrait de Manon (1894). However, Werther (1892) was produced in
Massenet’s later operas were largely based on fairy tale (Cendrillon, 1899; Grisélidis, 1901), Greco-Roman history and mythology (Ariane, 1906; Bacchus, 1909; Roma, 1912; Cléopâtre (1914) and literature [Sapho (after Alphonse Daudet), 1897; Chérubin (a continuation of Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy), 1905; Don Quichotte (after Cervantes), 1910]. His style has been accused of being static or even retrograde, yet his colorful, ethereal orchestration and long-breathed lyricism would have a profound effect on
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