by Michael Caruso

Following right on the heels of its memorable production of Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro” (The Marriage of Figaro), the Delaware Valley Opera Company (DVOC) is set to present Massenet’s “Werther” at 8 p.m. July 13, 17 and 20. The mounting will be performed at Stage One, 101 Plush Mill Rd. in Wallingford.

Jules Massenet based “Werther” on a libretto written by Eduardo Blau, Paul Millet and Georges Hartmann, who based their work on “The Sorrows of Young Werther” by the great German philosopher and novelist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Massenet was born May 12, 1842, in Montaud, St. Etienne, and died in Paris August 31, 1912. His life spanned the epoch in French history that includes the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty following the fall of the Emperor Napoleon and the rise of the House of Orleans and the so-called “Bourgeois Monarchy,” the Revolutions of 1848, and the establishment of the Second Republic. This led to the coup by Louis Napoleon (Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew), the Second Empire, and the humiliating defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, resulting in the loss of Alsace-Lorraine. It also produced the Second German Reich (the first being that of Charlemagne) and the Paris Commune, which was violently overthrown and replaced by the Third Republic.

Massenet’s most famous and acclaimed opera is “Manon,” which received its premiere in 1884 at Paris’ Opera-Comique. It remains an active part of the standard repertoire of all major opera houses even though Giacomo Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” (based on the same story) is by far the greater work. Massenet’s “Le Cid” followed “Manon” the very next year, receiving its premiere at the Paris Opera. “Thais,” from 1898, and “Don Quichotte,” from 1910, are the last of his important operas, with “Werther” falling in between. “Werther” was given its premiere (in German) in Vienna in 1892; it received its French-language premiere the following year at the Opera-Comique.

“What is so special about the ‘Werther’ score,” explained music director Michele Scanlon, “is the unabashed emotionalism. It is a small, intimate story with grand opera music. There is no adult chorus, only a small children’s choir that appears in the first act and at the very end of the fourth act. It’s like an emotional pressure cooker that periodically explodes with nuclear power.

“It is extremely well written for the voice. Charlotte, in particular, is the dream role of every lyric mezzo on the planet and is sometimes ‘stolen’ by sopranos who also sound quite beautiful in it. There’s a ‘high C’ in the fourth act. The role of Sophie is standard soubrette repertoire and is also highly sought after.”

“I have never worked on ‘Werther’ before,” added stage director Albert Chaney, “and it has been a great pleasure. One of the joys of working on this opera is the strength of its libretto. It adheres so well to its source material and brings its characters to life in a way not always found in opera. It is deeply romantic in a way that brings this tragic story straight into your heart.

“One of the difficulties of directing this incredible opera is finding the right balance for the people, the characters, on the stage. They all have such strong personalities, supported by such insightful, beautiful music, that staying focused on only one at a time is proving more difficult than I imagined at first.”

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