First off, Werther is too serious, too idealistic, too philosophizing, too absorbed in the innocence of little children, too steeped in thoughts of love. He's a wuss and ought to get a life. In trying to get one "his" way, he loses everything, including his life.
Such inner turmoil was excellent fodder for early German Romanticism, as viewed through the creative literary genius of Johann Goethe. A century later, French composer Jules Massenet set Goethe"s The Sorrows of Young Werther story to music in an 1892 opera simply titled Werther. And a century (or so) later, Indianapolis Opera mounted its first production of this all-too-serious tragedy.
Tenor Gran Wilson sang the title role in the Indianapolis Opera"s "Werther."
Last weekend's premiere IO performance of Werther once again saw Clowes Hall nearly filling its 2,200 seats, as the organization continues to ride the crest of an ongoing opera rebirth in the U.S. This is all the more startling when considering that this Massenet work doesn't ride the crest of world popularity; it's clearly second tier.
Yet this production was, in its way, quite affecting, with Massenet's kaleidoscopic orchestral commentary nicely brought out by IO artistic director and conductor James Caraher, using members of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the IO chorus. Tenor Gran Wilson sang the title role with an opulent, occasionally strident voice, which carried well over all competing sounds.
The role of Charlotte, the unconsummated love of Werther's life, was even more impressively sung by the very attractive Elizabeth Batton. She made her IO debut as Charlotte, who, coerced into marrying Albert on the deathbed wish of her mother, in reality loves none other than Werther. Batton's singing was clear, heavily modulated and well-projected. As a mezzo, she handles the higher soprano registry with ease.
Soprano Robin Blitch-Wiper sang Charlotte's sister Sophie (who also shows an attraction to Werther). She is diminutive to Charlotte in every way: smaller stature, smaller voice, smaller role - yet her singing was equally lovely.
Baritone Don Davis gave us a somewhat disappointing Albert. His voice ranged from too thin to too wobbly to too off-centered - but occasionally struck a good balance between these extremes.
Stage director Kay Walker Castaldo provided another excellent coordination of stage action, including "extras" portraying Werther and Charlotte dancing and caressing behind a gauze curtain - envisioned several times through Werther"s eyes while steeped in his lonely misery. Set designer Boyd Ostroff presented a sky of hazy clouds as a backdrop for Acts 1 and 2, and a wintry forest in Act 3 - symbolic of Werther's coming doom.