The Florida Grand Opera (FGO)’s production of Werther at the Arsht Center in Miami displayed a touching level of humanity and an ethereal commitment to desire and to a musical form that pays tribute to the stakes of unrequited love. From the outset of the four-act opera with a libretto written by Jules Massenet, the audience is treated with a production that displays a rare level of romantic melancholy with just a hit of comic farce to make this minimalist drama one to cherish. The FGO’s stylishly pastel-like lighting and minimalist set design makes this production a very contemporary one, complete with the requisite amount of moody and breezy stage effects.
The aria by Dimitri Pttas was a special highlight of the night. It happened so quickly, just after the curtain rose, that it could easily have been missed. I was taken aback by its beauty and its force. Mr. Pittas was here making his Florida Grand Opera debut and I must say what a debut it was. It left more than this audience member contemplating the joy of a live performance. Forget opera standards, this was a spectacle to cherish forever.
Evan Kardon played Sophie with just the right mixture of innocence and subtle seduction. Indeed, I believe Werther was not the only one falling in love with her on this night…
George Hartmann, Edouard Blau and Paul Milliet wrote the libretto to this intriguing story that first premiered in 1892 in Vienna. Since those days Werther has been considered a bit of a lost gem, not often produced and rarely listened to. It’s a work that’s lost a bit of standing within the classical musical world, perhaps unfairly.
With regards to the FGO’s production, Werther remains an interesting study in unrequited love, longing and the complexities of love triangles as a geometric conundrum that can only be explicated and resolved through tragedy. The bloody kiss at the performance’s conclusion is a powerful site. It is a moment where love becomes immortal and conquers even death.
What the Florida Grand Opera has achieved with this production of Massenet’s gem beckons many questions and provides inspirations for opera lovers. To inter-twine this old tale into a contemporary sensibility with such intricate lighting and a loving interpretation of the musical compositions represents an achievement of the most ambitious degree.
The Miami opening night performance I witnessed produced a restrained and fulfilling sense of longing. It was an interesting phenomenon to find longing so fulfilling, at least as a form of drama. Between the oddly inclined stage and the various depths of fields to go along with the shimmery lighting, the performance often felt like a somewhat soporific yet compelling dream one has after attending someone else’s wedding while still unmarried, pleased to be unmarried yet also somewhat curious about all the fuss being made over connubial bliss.