Vancouver Opera

Massenet's Werther
Libretto by Édouard Blau, Paul Milliet, and Georges Hartmann

Dates 14 October 2006 at 19.30 Venue Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Werther Bruce Sledge Charlotte Kimberley Barber Albert John Hancock Sophie Robyn Driedger-Klassen Le Bailli Chad Louwerse Schmidt John Arsenault Johann John Conlon Conductor Jacques Lacombe

Reviewer J H Stape

By following up last season's spectacular Faust with a concert version of Werther, Vancouver Opera has dipped its whole foot into the French repertoire. Massenet's glorious music was well served by the assembled forces, but the Queen Elizabeth Theatre's dry accoustics and cavernous spaces bled the drama dry despite attempts by the cast to give some sense of action to what could have been simply a stand-and-deliver event. The singing was at a very high level, and the orchestra under Maestro Jacques Lacombe (a ballet dancer on the podium type) revealed itself yet again as one of the best not only in town but on this side of the Don Vale.

Bruce Sledge's attractive tenor, if not large, effortlessly managed the title role. His performance, never less pleasing, seemed, however, both too distant and overly studied. The role of the poet in love in this most melodramatic of operas demands intense, passionate, and dramatic involvement, but what we got was technically refined and tastefully controlled sound. Listening to Mr Sledge was, then, more like attending a very good, exceedingly well prepared seminar on vocal technique, and where there was occasion and need to soar, he offered up flawless vocalism.

The Charlotte of Kimberly Barber was another thing altogether: passionately committed to her role, she sang ably and brought pathos to the troubled woman pleged and then wed to another man. Her letter scene in particular was dramatically compelling and vivid, and her vocal technique was all that one might have wanted -- with no shirking of the risks to give maximum dramatic impact.

Some of the evening's most exciting singing came from baritone John Hancock as the unhappy lover and later husband, Albert. Blessed with a simply gorgeous voice (rather in the mode of American baritone Thomas Hampson), Hancock was outstanding in every way, conveying the tensions of marital love not wholly unrequited. Hancock has real stage presence and, quite simply, star quality. No less deft in the role of the Bailiff was bass-baritone Chad Louewerse, his French and his singing equally impeccable. Robyn Dreidger-Klassen provided stylish singing and pert presence to Sophie, the girl in love but not loved back.

The minor roles of Schmidt, taken by John Arsenault, and Johann, taken by John Conlon, did the UBC Opera School from which they have emerged quite proud, and the chorus of children, directed by Rupert Lang sang with energy and glad grace.

© 2006 J H Stape