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11 May, 2019

Tenor Michael Fabiano wows audience in Sydney Werther.

Werther at the Sydney Opera House.  Friday 22nd Feb 2019

The Sydney audience gave a rare standing ovation for American tenor Michael Fabiano after four relentless acts of this devolving tragedy.  Unlike most operas, Werther has a simple story line of unrequited love leading to suicide.  And Massenet’s evocative orchestration and vocals take us through every stage from observation, recognition, desire, love, lust, envy, loss, anger to despair and death.  Haunting solos and dramatic duets reach incredible operatic high points in each of four acts and this is against the banal backdrops of a family gathering, street scene, a church anniversary and a Christmas dinner. 

We last saw this opera a decade ago with its charming and innovative production by Michael Yeargan and Elijah Moshinsky.  The clever use of indoor/outdoor settings well suits the story which takes place in a home, garden and village square.  An initial stage coup sees an entire sheet of shimmering silk covering all on stage, tables, chairs, bicycle, toys, fence, etc. As the prelude progresses it was almost imperceptibly pulled away, ‘sucked’ into a hole in the middle of the stage!  All is revealed: a weird and wonderful exposé for the scena of bright green grass, garden furniture, festooned entrance architrave, etcetera.

Charlotte was well sung by Elena Maximova who played Olga to the Tatiana of Anna Netrebko at the Metropolitan Opera in 2017.  Young sister Sofie was ably played by Stacey Alleaume with her several impetuous but melodious teenage interjections.  Luke Gabbedy cut a fine Albert while other supporting singers rose to the very substantial occasion for a well balanced performance. 

Werther is best known for its Act III tenor aria Pourquoi me reveiller which Mr Fabiano sang to perfection … as we once heard Luciano Pavarotti do likewise in this same opera house (in concert).  The connected duetto was vocally satisfying and emotionally wrenching, preparing us for the Act IV death scene. 

We first heard Michael Fabiano here as Faust in 2015, then in Lucia in 2018.  His voice may have broadened and his technique become more nuanced and shaded, each vocal phrase carefully crafted.

With its newly functional pit ‘enhancement’ the orchestra sounded full bodied under the baton of Maestro Carlo Montanaro.  As with the vocals, there is a particular style for French tempo, timbre and temperament.  Massenet would have been delighted at the modern presentation of his 1892 masterpiece. 

The opening night audience will long remember being bowled over by the vocal power and intense drama contrasted with subtlety and equipoise of Michael Fabiano’s stentorian performance.  Along with his fellow artists and bright production this is a ‘must-see’ opera.  There are seven more performances so opera lovers in reach of Sydney should get a ticket quickly (there are plenty available according to the company’s web site). 

Notes by Andrew Byrne ..