This Werther is conducted beautifully by Yves Abel, whose discography also includes Renée Fleming's Thaïs and Susan Graham's excellent C'est la vie, c'est l'amour. He elicits a passionate and beautifully haloed performance from the orchestra of Bologna's Teatro Comunale, sprinkled with exquisite soloistic moments and rousing climaxes. Also turning in noteworthy performances are: Magali Léger, whose sunny performance as the optimistic Sophie bears a striking resemblance to a young Natalie Dessay; and Giorgio Giuseppini as the Bailiff, who brings much-needed warmth of both voice and spirit to the production. The package also has informative and approachable liner notes by Arthur Holmberg.
Andrea Bocelli's previous opera recordings have exposed a lack of vocal presence and polish on the part of their star: flat delivery, shaky intonation, clipped and often prosaic phrasing, and a lack of expressive range. In this, Werther is no exception, and because it is Werther those qualities detract more from the overall effect of the production than they have from his previous efforts. Werther is, after all, the character that launched the Romantic conception of manhood, in which overt emotionalism became a fashionable quality. We shouldn't love Werther for what he does; in fact, his actions should reveal him to be selfish and somewhat pitiable. We shouldn't even love him for what he feels. But the strength of those feelings, and the completeness of Werther's surrender to them should resonate with our idealism, our dreams, and our yearning to make our deepest inner convictions real without compromise. As realized here by Bocelli, that's a tough ask. There is no variety of sound or expression, let alone any sense that he is oscillating between extremes of joy and despair. Massenet's fluid writing and gorgeous melodies still stir feeling, but they are forced to struggle against the flat, executorial delivery of their protagonist. Bocelli's French sounds phonetically self-conscious, and often not quite right, and his rhythmic cadence is flat footed. This Werther is altogether too careful and unchanging to touch off an emotional revolution.
As Charlotte, Julia Gertseva displays a hefty, dark-hued voice that has the power to deal with Massenet's often heavy orchestration, but which often lapses into harshness. Her diction is unclear, and at times she seems more concerned with the mechanics of singing than with the dynamics of a scene. It's a capable, but not particularly winning performance that might come off better if she had more of a foil in Bocelli.