Florida State Opera: Werther

The following is reprinted with permission from the Tallahassee (FL) Democrat, 27 March 2005.

Sumptuous music, colorful costumes, striking scenery, outsized emotions, and some really fine singing. All of these and more are on tap in the Florida State Opera’s production of Jules Massenet’s Werther running this weekend and next at Florida State University’s Opperman Music Hall.

Massenet’s 1892 drama is an adaptation of Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther, one of the founding documents of Romanticism. The production team (stage director Matthew Lata, scenic and lighting designer Peter Dean Buck, costume designer Colleen Muscha, and wig and makeup designer Kathy Waszkelewisz) made the telling decision to set the action in the 1840’s, when the ideas in Goethe’s story (written during the Enlightenment and in part in reaction to it) had reached their full flower in the culture.

Mr. Buck’s sets and lighting were evocative, and his use of the vertical space over the small Opperman stage created a sense of openness that would not have been possible otherwise. Ms. Muscha’s striking costumes and Ms. Waszkelewisz’ wigs and makeup lent an air of authenticity to the proceedings.

As usual, Mr. Lata (of the FSU opera faculty) moves his characters around the stage with a balance of natural action and theatricality. There is always something to look at in this production.

And then there is the music. Director of Opera Activities Douglas Fisher led a very good student orchestra in a performance that gave voice to the full-throated late Romanticism of the score while maintaining a pace that kept the action moving along. Orchestral intonation and ensemble quality were solid.

Tenor Daniel Gerdes was a compelling Werther. His big, clear voice and expressive phrasing communicated the anguish of the doomed young man.

Melissa Garvey was a sweet-voiced and sympathetic Charlotte, and Lianne Coble was touching as a bystander to the tragedy.

Evan Jones brought a considerable amount of sympathy to the dramatically thankless but musically rewarding role of Charlotte’s husband, Albert. Michael Peters (The Bailiff), Michael Hix (Johann), Oliver Mercer (Schmidt), Amanda Matson (Katchen), and Brent Arnold (Bruhlmann) contributed to the production’s quality in small roles. A well rehearsed and dramatically mischievous children’s chorus added a light touch and poignancy at the drama’s end.

The Florida State Opera will undoubtedly continue, with this production, to add to its growing reputation as one of the finest college opera programs in the country.

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