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Jules Massenet, Werther (1892), Act One: Recitative and Aria, “Alors, c’est bien ici…Ô Nature”; and Act Two, Recitative and Aria, “Un autre est son époux!…J’aurais sur ma poitrine”
by Roger Pines
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Aria Talk8/2/2012

Editor's Note:
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I’ve heard innumerable tenors audition with “Pourquoi me réveiller,” but no one sings either of Werther’s other two arias. This seems unfortunate, considering that “Pourquoi” is handicapped by its unvaried mood and two identical verses. You have fabulous alternatives in the arias from both Act One (ravishing musically and textually) and Act Two (blazingly dramatic, with a stunning climax). Don’t ignore those other two arias — it’s time to remind your listeners that Werther isn’t all about waiting for his high A-sharps!

In Werther’s entrance scene, he waxes rhapsodic regarding nature, which has cast such a spell of beauty and charm in the area surrounding the Bailiff’s house. He cites in turn the wall, the spring, the shade, the hedge, the flowers — and finally he cries ecstatically to the sun, “Come flood me with your rays!” By Act Two several weeks have passed, and Werther’s beloved Charlotte is now the wife of Albert (the man she promised her dying mother she would marry). Observing the couple in the town square, Werther gives way to his misery (“Another man is her husband!”). In his brief monologue he repeatedly declares that he should have been the one clasping her to him, it was he she could love. Now he feels his body shuddering, and all he can do is weep.

The quiet recitative at Werther’s Act One appearance — when he asks a young peasant if this is indeed the house of the Bailiff, and when he declares to himself that it is as if this were paradise — already shows the gentleness and poetic sensitivity of this figure. The “Ô Nature!” aria works its magic through the ultimate in elegant legato, with a bit of urgency in the middle section (when Werther excitedly describes each element of the scene around him). Rather larger-scale vocally, the Act Two scene presents the challenge of preventing yourself from giving all the emotion away within the first minute. You have to build the churningly intense phrases of both recitative and aria skillfully, pulling back dynamically for a couple of phrases (while still maintaining maximum intensity) at “Lorsque s’ouvrait le ciel qui s’illumine” and finding different colors for the repetitions of “C’est moi qu’elle pouvait aimer!” The final “Et tout mon être, tout mon être en pleure!” is a shattering moment, but it can only be that if you haven’t exhausted yourself by the time you get there.

Score: Heugel or Kalmus
Timing: 4:50 (Act One recit and aria); 4:05 (Act Two recit and aria)
To hear the complete role: Georges Thill (CD, Naxos label); José Carreras (CD, Philips label); Marcelo Alvarez (DVD, TDK label)
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About the Author: Roger Pines, dramaturg at Lyric Opera of Chicago, judges annually for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and regularly advises singers on repertoire choices.Roger Pines, dramaturg at Lyric Opera of Chicago, judges annually for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and regularly advises singers on repertoire choices.
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