Review | Werther at the Royal Opera House

Juan Diego Florez as Werther in Werther at ROH, 2019. Photographed by Catherine Ashmore

Massenet’s Werther makes a welcome return to the Royal Opera House in the third revival of Benoît Jacquot’s 2004 production.

Based on Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The sorrows of young Werther), the opera follows the story of Werther and Charlotte, who meet and one night fall in love; but Charlotte’s fiancée Albert returns and obligation leads her to marry him. This causes herself, Werther and everyone, a lot of pain and heartache: the conflict between obligation and desire is the crux of the story

Returning to the Royal Opera House in the main role is Juan Diego Flórez as Werther. His voice sadly is not what it used to be. He was quite soft of voice at points, with the projection just about there. While Werther is meant to be very passionate and in huge pain over not being with Charlotte, in the first few acts Flórez’s acting was too melodramatic. When it mattered though, in the third act, he pulled it off and the audience went crazy for him. Very much deserved too.

In her role debut (and Royal Opera House debut), soprano Isabel Leonard as Charlotte was spectacular. Her voice was silky with phenomenal control and a wide register, but what really impressed me was what a good actor she was. Her expressions, her body language, especially in Act 3 were just riveting. What a debut! Michael Mofidian, of the Jette Parker Young Artists, continues to impress in the role of Johann with a rich voice – very good projection and acting too – following on from his very notable role in ROH’s La Forza Del Destino last season.

Alastair Miles as The Bailli brought warmth and pleasure as Charlotte’s father. Jacques Imbrailo, a former Jette Parker Young Artist and star of Billy Budd last season at ROH, plays Albert in his role debut. He plays him very well and his acting is again brilliant. It’s just a shame that the role wasn’t more for him, as he gave a great performance.

The production is effectively and historically set. I loved the set for Act 4: mostly a black empty stage with snow falling, with Werther’s room there in the centre. Its beauty coupled with the tragedy of Werther’s impending death makes for a perfect juxtaposition. The costumes are very well designed and look brilliant, especially the red number for Albert! The lighting, however, was too dark for some scenes and inconsistent throughout.

Edward Gardner, after his stunning Kát’a Kabanová last season at ROH, returns to conduct and leads the orchestra beautifully – an extra difficult feat with a large proportion of the main orchestra currently on tour in Japan.

Werther is on at the Royal Opera House until the 5th October 2019 and will also be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday 30th November.

Words by Stuart Martin.

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