Manitoba·REVIEW

Some creaky Romanticism, but Manitoba Opera's Werther stands the test of time

Manitoba Opera's high-quality production of Werther, a not-overly familiar work, is a strong close to another fine season, says Lara Rae.

Story of love, love lost and suicide a strong close to Manitoba Opera's season

Howard Rempel as Johann and Terence Mierau as Schmidt in Manitoba Opera's production of Werther, which Lara Rae says is a strong close to the company's season. (Robert Tinker)

Werther, the closing production of the Manitoba Opera 2016-17 season, is literally for the ages.

The source work, Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, dates from 1774 and Jules Massenet's glorious French opera dates from 1892. This production is set in the 1920s. 

The story begins in July but summer turns to fall and winter, both literally and emotionally, as the hero, Werther, unable to have his beloved Charlotte, takes his own life on Christmas Eve.

As Charlotte, Lauren Segal (left) is a standout in Manitoba Opera's Werther. In the title role, John Tessier (right) is more overwrought than moody, but shows off a strong voice. (Robert Tinker)
So moved were the youth of Europe when the original novel was published that it set off a series of tragic copycat suicides in a phenomenon that became known as the Werther Effect.

The sentimental Romanticism reflected in both the opera's libretto and the novel are both a bit creaky by today's standards. But the romantic flavour of the music, which contains less sentimentality and evokes some of the darker tones of the original work, stands the test of time.

The 1920s pre-Depression costumes and sets are impressive. Ann Hodges' direction has a light touch and the whole evening flies by, despite clocking in at three hours with intermissions. It's an odd quality of this production that it maintains a breezy and entertaining quality despite the sombre storyline.

The singing is strong, with the two soprano leads Lara Secord-Haid (as Sophie) and Lauren Segal (Charlotte) being standouts. And Keith Phares as Charlotte's husband, Albert, has a tone and presence that really suit the role. John Tessier was more overwrought than moody as Werther, but his strong voice carried the famous final act aria Pourquoi me réveiller (Why Do You Wake Me?).

But the tragic scene in the final act where Werther reminds Charlotte of their sharing of the poetry of the blind Scots bard Ossian seems like so much of Romanticism as to be bathetic and florid to modern minds.

The high-quality production of this not-overly familiar work is a strong close to another fine season for Manitoba Opera.

The 1920s pre-Depression costumes and sets of Werther are impressive. (Robert Tinker)

Manitoba Opera's production of Werther runs at the Centennial Concert Hall until May 5.

Tickets for Friday's final performance are being offered at two-for-one prices.

Manitoba Opera has partnered with Mood Disorders Manitoba to use this tragic opera as an awareness tool. Information about suicide and mental illness is available in the lobby nightly. 

Lara Rae is an opera buff and the artistic director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival.

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