FGO wraps season with impassioned, beautifully sung “Werther”

By Lawrence Budmen

Dimitri Pittas and Daniela Mack star in Massenet's "Werther" at Florida Grand Opera. Photo: Daniel Azoulay

Dimitri Pittas and Daniela Mack star in Massenet’s “Werther” at Florida Grand Opera. Photo: Daniel Azoulay

Few French operas of the 19th century are more romantic and passionate than Jules Massenet’s Werther. This tragic romance between a lovelorn protagonist and a woman who shares his love but remains faithful to her husband is a veritable showpiece for the tenor in the title role.

Dimitri Pittas was every inch the star at the opening performance of Florida Grand Opera’s new production of Massenet’s 1892 opera Saturday night at the Arsht Center. There was not a single weak link in this musically scrupulous, intelligently conceived presentation, FGO’s finest offering of the season.

Singing the role for the first time, Pittas effectively conveyed Werther’s emotional turmoil. A handsome and dapper figure at his entrance in the first act, he looked transformed and emaciated by the time he appeared at his beloved Charlotte’s home in Act III. Pittas was so dramatically effective that he made one believe that  Werther’s tragic end was inevitable from the start.

His light, brightly projected timbre is perfect for French opera and his vocalism was rich with romantic ardor. Pittas’s lyrical voice caressed the fervent outburst of “Pourquoi me reveiller” and Werther’s ode to spring and visions of childhood were both ringing and subtlety nuanced. His final declarations of love for Charlotte were imbued in honeyed tones. This role is a perfect match for Pittas’s formidable vocal and theatrical talents.

As Charlotte, Daniela Mack was equally superb. Also new to her role, the Argentinean mezzo’s sizable, dark sound was beautiful and freely projected, even when lying on the floor by a Christmas tree at the onset of Charlotte’s letter scene. Her sense of drama was riveting as Charlotte increasingly feared for Werther’s life and sanity. Mack movingly conveyed Charlotte’s sadness at the memory of her deceased mother and remorse at her lover’s tragic end. A regal presence on stage, she brought dignity and grace to a role that can seem one-dimensional in lesser hands.

All the secondary roles were splendidly cast as well. Evan Kardon has the shining soubrette soprano and lively personality to make Sophie, Charlotte’s sister, a standout role, enlivening her every appearance. Benjamin Dickerson’s warm baritone and affinity for the Gallic style made the most of Charlotte’s husband Albert’s scenes, softening the character’s stuffy disposition.

Jake Gardner still has the strong bass baritone and acting chops for the Baliff, Charlotte’s kindly father. As his two codger pals Schmidt and Johan, Dominick Corbacio and Rafael Porto sang with vigor and their drunken scene at the opening of Act II was hilarious.

he roles of the more happy lovers Katchen and Bruhlmann, played by Mariya Kaganskaya and Sean Galligan, were cut down to almost nothing, just a brief appearance in Act I. The six young children were delightful, their Christmas carol winningly harmonized.

Joseph Mechavich drew outstanding playing from the orchestra, and his pacing was masterful, alive to the score’s shifting moods. He did not pause at the conclusion of Werther’s famous aria and, while this deprived Pittas of an ovation, Mechavich kept the tension at fever pitch during the final confrontation between the protagonists. He also skillfully kept the brass from dominating the orchestral fabric, minimizing the orchestration’s Wagnerian overtones.

The traditional production, directed by Lawrence Edelson, made no apologies for the romantic melodrama, portraying the action and characters realistically. Magical images of silhouetted lovers in the moonlight in the first act and Werther’s final meeting with Charlotte and death amid falling snow on Christmas Eve lit up the stage.

The unit set by Michael Baumgarten and JP Woodley wonderfully encapsulated the village green and the homes of the Baliff, and Charlotte and Albert with the addition of a tree, windows and a pathway providing just the right sense of ambience. Baumgarten’s lighting set the tone of the changing seasons from the brightness of summer to the chill of winter, matching the score’s emotional roller coaster. Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s handsome, multi-hued costumes illuminated the stage pictures.

The first-night audience’s ovation at the opera’s conclusion was unusually long and enthusiastic for Miami. There are five remaining performances. Musical Francophiles and lovers of great singing should not miss this near -flawless production of a romantic operatic classic.

Florida Grand Opera will repeat Werther 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 5 at the Arsht Center in Miami and 7:30 p.m. May 9 and 11 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale.  fgo.org; 800-741-101

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment

Sun Apr 28, 2019
at 1:13 pm
No Comments