Francesco Meli (Werther) and Sonia Ganassi (Charlotte), in Werther, Washington National Opera, 2012 (photo by Scott Suchman)
Werther needs an excellent tenor to sing the title role, which Washington has also had twice -- Giuseppe Filianoti last year, and in an exemplary WNO debut, Francesco Meli this year. He had almost all of the qualities required for this daunting role: a heroic, ringing top (only a couple of the very highest notes weakened just slightly on Saturday night), a dulcet tone giving him control over the softer passages (a lovely "O Nature, pleine de grâce"), and a sincere and arresting stage presence. Werther is meant to outshine everyone else -- in fact, because he sings such beautiful music, one may be more inclined to excuse the character's overly dramatic, self-indulgent poetic excesses -- and in Meli's hands he certainly did. Mezzo-soprano Sonia Ganassi had strength when she needed it as Charlotte, especially in the moving letter scene, but she shrank into the background in many places, not helped by the dumpy costumes, otherwise quite becoming (designed by Barilà). The fault is perhaps due to Massenet's score as much as it is to Ganassi: Massenet wrote much of his best music for the soprano voice -- Manon, Thaïs, Esclarmonde, La Fée in Cendrillon, many conceived for the apparently astounding American soprano Sibyl Sanderson -- and the much more sparkling writing for Charlotte's younger sister, Sophie, here providing a fizzy, light-as-a-feather main stage outing for former Domingo-Cafritz artist Emily Albrink, should be a sign to Werther that he might be better off with her.
Emily Albrink (Sophie) and Sonia Ganassi (Charlotte), in Werther, Washington National Opera, 2012 (photo by Scott Suchman)
Anne Midgette, Opera review: ‘Werther’ at the Washington National Opera (Washington Post, May 14)
Tim Smith, 'Werther' gets eloquent treatment from Washington National Opera (Baltimore Sun, May 14)
Alex Baker, Werther at WNO (Wellsung, May 14)
T. L. Ponick, ‘Werther’ is a feel-good tragic tale (Washington Times, May 10)
Emily Cary, Baritone shines in 'Werther' (Washington Examiner, May 10)
This production continues for six more performances (May 14 to 27), in the Kennedy Center Opera House.