Grigolo and DiDonato in Werther

25 Jun

I like Werther, but it does matter who is singing: if you haven’t got two convincing leads then you might as well forget it.  The prospect of Joyce DiDonato in her first Charlotte and Vittorio Grigolo in the title role made the latest ROH revival one of the “must sees” of the season.  I caught the performance on 24th June.

Grigolo looks marvellous as Werther – slim, vulnerable, poetic.  Vocally, he’s great: a lovely piano sound, passion when you need it and the ability to become really moving.  His 2nd act aria meditating about death was gloriously done; Pourquoi me reveiller matched Kaufmann and his death scene was moving.  It’s an elegant, passionate portrayal.  He’s not the the world’s greatest actor: it’s a long timesince I’ve seen someone use their hands in as old fashioned a way as him: arms stretched out at full tilt and all the cliches of an Italian operatic tenor.  He makes up for it with the glorious, easy, intelligent singing that I’ve described.  Maybe Kaufmann’s is the more complete portrayal and his voice stronger, more baritonal, but Grigolo’s version is more delicate, neurotic and just as valid.

Charlotte doesn’t really become interesting until the third Act and, here, Joyce DiDonato made the most convincing, interesting Charlotte that I’ve seen.  I prefer a Charlotte with a bit of bite in the voice and a bit of personality: think Baker and Fassbaender, even Baltsa, rather than, say, Koch or Donose.  DiDonato has the richness and the colours to get the regret, sadness and strength of Charlotte.  I thought she did the letter aria gloriously and, together with Grigolo, made his death really moving.  It’s great to see one of my favourite mezzos in a role that challenges her and which she manages really well.  Perhaps she is just a touch mature.  Her French isn’t always clear, but this is a lovely assumption of the role.

But maybe the real star was Antonio Pappano.  This is one of the finest performances that he’s done at the ROH.  He paces the score gloriously, is, of course, considerate to his singers.  But what impressed me most was the phrasing, the colours that he drew out of the orchestra.  I don’t think I’ll easily forget the she delicacy of sound that he drew out at the beginning of Charlotte’s letter aria – a sound that made of think of paper rustling.  The moonlight interlude caught the sheer beauty and indulgence of the sound.  Pappano has said that, while he’s musical director here, no one else is allowed to conduct Werther in the house.  That’s just fine by me.  It’s a bench-mark performance.

The rest were pretty good.  I was impressed by Heather Engebretson’s Sophie – just the right youthful enthusiasm and love.  Her voice suits the role wonderfully and she contrasted marvellously with DiDonato, while suggesting the “might have been” of the relationship with Werther.  David Buzic made a solid Albert and Jonathan Summers a lovely Bailli.

The Benoit Jacquot production doesn’t challenge anyone very much.  It looks pretty good, but it was old fashioned when it was new in 2004.  It’s a decent enough frame for the leading singers and, on this occasion, that was all they needed.

A pretty good evening.  There are still seats available and it’s well worth seeing both DiDonato and Grigolo – but most especially for Pappano and the orchestra.

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