Massenet, musings, and the Met

Jonas Kaufmann as Werther, Paris 2010
Jonas Kaufmann as Werther, Paris 2010

Continuing the subject of Massenet’s Werther–the first opera I saw with our tenor–from my post from March 23, I thought I would take a moment to share something I’ve been pondering for more reasons than it is possible to name: a subscription to Met-on-Demand [MOD].

I’m sure those who are long-time opera fans have known about this for quite a while. But for the newbies like me: if you’re in the mood to watch opera on a fairly regular basis, it looks like a reasonable deal at $14.99/month. (And my mom and I are looking at going in on it together…not bad at $7.50/mo per person!) And there is a free 7-day trial. (See how I’m attempting to convince myself…?)

Oh, temptation.

One highlight among many from the 575+ recordings available from MOD: there is another production of Werther, again with Jonas in the title role and Sophie Koch as Charlotte, done at the Met a few years after the 2010 Paris production. Here is a teaser clip of Werther’s “O Nature” aria from Act I (the last part of the aria):

“I have so much in me, and the feeling for her absorbs it all; I have so much, and without her it all comes to nothing.”  ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “The Sorrows of Young Werther”

This little aria, our introduction to the character Werther, is really is a prayer to nature, as is highlighted by the first line: “O nature, full of grace,” echoing the Hail Mary. In the Paris production, Werther ends the aria in a kind of childlike wonder, almost ecstasy, basking in the beauty of the sunlight as though before the altar of his idol. The beginning of the aria, roughly translated, runs thus:

O nature, plein de grâce,

Reine du temps et de l’espace,

Daigne accueillit celui qui passe

Et te salue, humble mortel!

~     ~     ~

O nature, full of grace,

Queen of time and space,

Deign to welcome this passer-by

Who salutes you–this humble mortal!

"O, Nature!" from Werther, Paris 2010
“O, Nature!” from Werther, Paris 2010

We almost feel: if only his devotion had remained limited to the simple and abundant glories of nature–rather than becoming distracted by the far more complex and fickle attractions of romantic love–he might have been happier…

But then, where is the drama in that?

“Is this the destiny of man? Is he only happy before he has acquired his reason or after he has lost it?”  ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “The Sorrows of Young Werther”

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Looking for libretti…

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Works as a door-stopper too!

Look what just arrived from ThriftBooks on Amazon: a door-stopper! A 1996 edition of The Book of 101 Opera Librettos: Complete Original Texts with English Translations.

I certainly could have made good use of this tome over the past month and a half! One thing which has to be tackled when one is trying to see opera on the cheap—or simply just to see many operas which aren’t available on conventional DVD/Bluray with the option of subtitles (and more re: Premiere Opera later)—is how to get ahold of librettos (or “libretti”).

There are many options. The one I used for seeing the whole 2015 ROH [Royal Opera House, Covent Garden] Andrea Chénier (link to Act I of IV here) was via an online public domain source, and I had the local print shop print out a paper copy for me. That would be a bit cumbersome for each opera…hence this tome, which can be found used on Amazon.

The Book of 101 Opera Librettos isn’t exactly a book to sneak into one’s purse if you’re lucky enough to go to live opera…might as well haul around a few bowling balls. Better to read the libretto beforehand, if needed. But it certainly works in the comfort of your living room–

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Um…read the libretto, or watch Jonas?

Mostly. Problems arise when one has to keep deciding whether to look down at the libretto to comprehend what is being said, versus staring at a certain tenor who shall remain nameless. Or when tears are streaming down one’s face, obscuring the too-small type.

I’ve read mixed things about this book. Apparently some of the choices in translation are a little eccentric, as are some of the choices of which operas to include, and which to exclude…

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Something is missing here…

(Where is Don Carlo??)

As to the last question, perhaps it has to do with the several versions there are (in French and Italian) of this opera…but I still find it a puzzling omission. More on Don Carlo and its multiple versions later.

Nonetheless, I’m grateful to have this book…if nothing else, I can use it as a booster seat.

Jonas’ Werther…for free? Ah, “pourquoi me réveiller”!?

By a happy accident, I’d forgotten to cancel my free trial of Amazon Prime last year—I have about 5 days left at the moment—and so the first opera I saw with our wonder-tenor Jonas Kaufmann is viewable for free, compliments of Prime and Medici (at least here in the US), and can be found here.

Werther is Jules Massenet’s four-act opera of 1887, based on a 1774 novel by Goethe. This is the 2010 production of the Opera National de Paris, starring our tenor in the title role, Sophie Koch as Charlotte, and Ludovic Tezier as Charlotte’s fiancé Albert. A good synopsis can be found at Naxos, here.

"O Nature!
“O Nature!”

As you might imagine, our tenor is sublime as the poetic, melancholy, Nature-worshipping Werther, whose doomed love of Charlotte—affianced to Albert before love awakens between herself and the young poet—leads to tragedy.

Please don’t miss this beautiful, moving performance and production. For a taste of it, click the link above—or here—to the heart-stopping aria, “Pourquoi me réveiller?” (“Why rouse me?”) You won’t want to be awakened from the dream, either…

The beginning of an obsession: The Pearl Fishers duet

It was approximately 7:30am PST on February 5th 2016 that I first heard the voice of Jonas Kaufmann and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. The means: an innocent-looking facebook link to their Pearl Fishers duet from a concert (“Hvorostovsky and Friends”) in Moscow of 2008.

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From a childhood journal. My first crush: Samuel Ramey as Don Giovanni

I had not followed opera ~ except for perhaps one or two Bryn Terfel productions on dvd ~ since I was a little girl with a crush on Samuel Ramey. However, having grown up with the marvelous Zeffirelli production of Turandot with Placido Domingo, my family and I had finally taken advantage the previous evening of the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD cinema showings ~ this time, the Met’s most recent Zeffirelli-based production of Turandot. Swedish soprano Nina Stemme was phenomenal as the lead, and the set was glorious to behold.

As we were underwhelmed by the Calaf, however, Debra (my marvelous mom) went on a search for current tenors ~ again, we had not been following opera ~ and came across the wonder-tenor Jonas Kaufmann. (Had we been under a rock all these years…?)

Never would we have imagined that any tenor after Domingo would have a voice of a similar quality. Mr Kaufmann’s is reminiscent of his, yet altogether unique; his has a darker texture than that of most tenors. Emotional, rich, “veiled”–as I have heard it described. Sublime. (But, truthfully, I don’t think the perfect word has yet been invented.)

And glorious Dmitri Hvorostovsky? A heart-stoppingly beautiful baritone, whose presence and power are unmatched, and who brings emotional richness and captivating charm to every role. Dima, we love you!

Little did Debra know what she would start with the innocent sharing of a link to a duet.

Since that time (about a month and a half later, as I record this), I’ve managed to see filmed or YouTube versions of operas such as Don Carlo (oh, have I fallen for Verdi, or what!), La Fanciulla del West, Il Trovatore, La Forza del Destino, Andrea Chénier, Manon Lescaut, Tosca, and Werther; I’ve seen Mr Kaufmann’s glorious An Evening with Puccini in the local cinema; and have discovered innumerable arias and lieder that have brought joy and light into a busy little life.

In a world filled with tragedy and loss, it is a great gift to find joy in the Beauty of something so well done, and so passionately. I thought of scribbling my thoughts here, as I continue to journey into this wonderful world, even if no one else were to read them.

But one of the best joys is discovering other opera fans and friends! I’m learning more by the day, and love sharing the love right back.

I figure: if one who has little to no means to spend on travel and expensive opera tickets and no formal musical knowledge or training, nor a facility for languages other than my own, can appreciate the great gift that opera is…well, anyone can. (And should, if possible!)

Jonas, Dmitri, and all of these great artists have opened ~ to this family, at least ~ the wide landscape of opera.

Oh, what have we been missing all these years?

A humble “thank you” to all artists who bring light and beauty into our lives.