Massenet: Werther


A longtime champion of the baritone Werther, Thomas Hampson sang it to great acclaim at New York’s Met with Susan Graham in 1999; they recreate the roles on the Châtelet stage under the baton of Michel Plasson in a legendary concert performance from 2004 captured for DVD.

Following the early performances of Werther in 1892 Massenet seems to have felt uncomfortable with assigning Goethe’s morbid hero to a tenor and considered reworking the role for the great Verdi baritone Victor Maurel. In the event the role was adapted for the Italian baritone Mattia Battistini, who sang it throughout Europe during Massenet’s lifetime. No autograph manuscript survives, but a working score that belonged to Battistini has formed the basis for the version performed here, with the role not merely transposed but rewritten to suit the darker and more psychologically rich baritone voice.

Concert performance recorded live at the Théâtre du Châtelet
Paris, April 2004
Directed by Jean-Pierre Brossmann
Directed for television by Olivier Sim

La Maîtrise de Paris
Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse
Michel Plasson, conductor

Thomas Hampson (Werther)
Susan Graham (Charlotte)

“. . .the baritone voice’s darker colorings and the narrower parameters of the melodic lines enhance the melancholia of Goethe’s sorrowful character . . . Even when stretches of the part seem like monotone commentaries on the lush writing in the orchestra, the music has an impact: it is as if Werther is revealing the subtext of the story, warning us not to fall for the soaring orchestra melodies and that seductive saxophone.

Mr. Hampson conveyed the immobilizing depression of his character . . . He sang with his customary intelligence, plaintive lyricism and plush sound . . . this was impressive singing and a rich portrayal.”
Anthony Tommasini – The New York Times