Above : members of the Opera Australia Children’s Chorus. Featured image : Stacey Alleaume as Sophie and Elena Maximova as Charlotte. Photo credit : Prudence Upton.
Opera Australia impresses with the sparkling sheen it gives to the substantial theatrical package of Jules Massenet’s Werther. From the outset, this is a visually fresh and stunning production with engaged performances which do not disappoint. Its well-paced descent from Werther’s infatuation to tragedy is tightly blocked across the stage.
At all times, the realistic acting with penetrating vocal performances from ensemble and solo cast is ably supported by a vibrant realisation of the continuous intricacies of Massenet’s score.
The source text for this libretto is Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, with its anguished letters between perhaps a lonely engaged woman Charlotte and Werther.
However, in the hands of Jules Massenet and his trio of librettists we are given some very confronting and compact slices of emotional life in domestic and interior settings . The stuff of Goethe’s letters are
fully fleshed out between characters who are often present face to face.
Michael Yeargan’s expansive and luminous domestic sets provide an image of deceptive contented homeliness and peaceful family activity from the outset. Against such shifting backdrops, the outdoors are accessible and visible through doorways and rear scrim.
Costuming under the supervision of Sabina Myers is luminous and mirrors this story’s moods effectively. Colourful casual and party fashion often has vivid colours wed with black or dark hues with relevant and powerful foreboding.
Charlotte’s Letter Aria in Act 3 is delivered by Elena Maximova with a penetrating directness of voice and skilful momentum to suggest accelerating emotional collapse. Her outstanding physicality matches a keen and fluid musicality in these utterances.
Throughout this performance, very deep,dark tension seeps from the stage, slithers over the sonic tapestries emerging from the orchestral pit and caresses the audience in chill waves. Later horrors
can be felt brewing early thanks to the fierce stage presence and commanding full voice of Michael Fabiano as the lovesick poet Werther.
Above : Michael Fabiano as Werther. Photo credit : Prudence Upton.
Fabiano’s vivid hues relating to his character’s tortured demise shine in his dramatic of vocal control. These feature with suffocating sadness during his Act 3 moments with Elena Maximova. His penetrating and measured final scene is captivating.
The children’s chorus complete and enhance this home environment. Their humour, energy and beautifully consistent clear singing inexhaustibly leap out at us from their diversely costumed tableaux and choreography alike.
Also always finely costumed for house relaxing or party and always singing with incredibly pleasing tone and natural skill when working with ensemble or principals is Stacey Alleaume. Her standout work in the role of Charlotte’s younger sister Sophie is charming and engagingly fluid.
Conductor Carlo Montanaro brings Massenet’s sprawling evocative motifs together with expert rendering of the score’s constantly shifting expressive concerns and fleeting changes in tone colour. Always rewarding is his harnessing of immense textural high rises of expression, with voices in the middle of the orchestral range and textures.
This version of Werther glistens , shines and shocks. It is a powerful revival of the Elijah Moshinsky production first presented in 1989. It’s three hours make for a long sit but intervals are generous. It’s vibrant and compellingly crafted train-wreck of wronged love will have you unable to look away.
Werther plays at the Dame Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, until March 11.