OP3277. WERTHER, Live Performance, 18 March, 1989, w. Jean Fournet Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Neil Wilson, Kathleen Kuhlmann, Bernd Weikl, Dawn Upshaw, Renato Capecchi, Charles Anthony, James Courtney, Sandra Bush & Ray Morrison. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-661.
“A company that makes the investment of time and money to issue a performance of WERTHER that contains no box office names is a company that is doing something out of a true artistic belief in the quality of the performance. Tenors singing the title role at the Met during this period included Alfredo Kraus, Franco Corelli, and Placido Domingo. So who was Neil Wilson? Those who could be found singing Charlotte at that time include Frederica von Stade, Regine Crespin, and Tatiana Troyanos. Although Kathleen Kuhlmann is not a complete unknown, her reputation isn’t in the same league.
Research online didn’t create optimism either, as the one review I found of this performance (Martin Bernheimer in THE NEW YORK TIMES) was decidedly less than enthusiastic. But listening to this set proved to be a thoroughly satisfying experience, one that I will be pleased to repeat many times in the future. At the core is veteran French conductor Jean Fournet, who was 76 at the time of this performance. He understood every element of appropriate French style and was able to communicate it to the Met Orchestra. In matters of balance, texture, color, tempo relationships, and dramatic urgency this account is outstanding. Clarity of texture is merged with a long-flowing line to keep the music soaring throughout.
Wilson was a last-minute substitute for Neil Shicoff (and for Shicoff’s understudy, who was also ill). He had enjoyed some prior successes in Europe and at the New York City Opera. While Wilson’s voice lacks glamor and individuality of color, it nonetheless is a basically warm, focused, attractive light tenor, and the singer portrays the complex character of Werther from the inside. There are passing moments of sagging pitch, but they are minor. Far more importantly, Wilson sings with style and real presence, and the ovation after ‘Pourquoi me reveiller’ is well deserved. Kuhlmann is even better. Her dark, rich mezzo has a vibrant glow, and her Charlotte is every bit as vibrant and alive as those of her more famous Met colleagues. What is very special is the evenness of the voice; its character is unchanged from a plummy lower register to a warm and luminous top.
Bernd Weikl is a bit blustery as Albert, but the remainder of the cast is superb, particularly Dawn Upshaw’s wonderfully sung Sophie. This release took me by surprise, and I would now rank it as one of the finest recordings of WERTHER, one that anyone who loves this opera should investigate. There are more stunning individual performances on competing sets, but very few with the kind of fully integrated unity that is found here. As usual, St. Laurent Studio provides no notes or libretto, but we get thorough trackings and performance documentation, along with a superb rendering of the Met broadcast network’s stereo sound. This release is available from Norbeck, Peters & Ford (www.norpete.com).”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"Neil Wilson, a tenor who sang at the Metropolitan Opera from 1988 to 1993, was particularly admired for his portrayal of the title role in Massenet's WERTHER. He began his operatic career in 1980 in a performance of Verdi's FALSTAFF at Wolf Trap. He also appeared in the early 1980s in performances with the Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall and at the Wurttembergische Staatsoper in Stuttgart, Germany. In 1988 he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Macduff in Verdi's MACBETH. Other roles he sang with the company were Rodolfo in Puccini's LA BOHEME and WERTHER, both of which included broadcast performances, and Alfredo in Verdi's LA TRAVIATA. In 1990 he was selected as a leading tenor at the Komische Oper in Berlin, and over the last decade he gave more than 150 performances in leading roles, both in the house and on tour. In May, 2000, he was awarded the Wagner Prize by the Liederkranz Foundation, and performed in a concert that the Foundation presented at Alice Tully Hall.”
- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 25 Aug., 2000
"The mezzo-soprano Kathleen Kuhlmann made her debut in 1979 at the Lyric Opera in Chicago; her European debut followed in 1980 at the Cologne opera; In 1982 she made her debut at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in Handel’s SEMELE; La Scala, the Glyndebourne Festival (title role in Rossini’s LA CENERENTOLA), which was followed by the Salzburg Festival and the Metropolitan Opera.
Since that time Kathleen Kuhlmann appeared in Munich, Hamburg, Dresden, Berlin, Essen, Dusseldorf, Stuttgart, Vienna, Barcelona, Bilbao, Naples, Parma, Pesaro, Genua, Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris and Toulouse; also in Sydney, Montreal and San Francisco. She sang Handel’s XERXES in Chicago, Munich and Cologne, GIULIO CESARE in Munich, Paris, Bordeaux and Rome; SEMELE (the role of Juno) in Aix-en-Provence and Cologne Opera House, ALCINA in Chicago and Paris; she gave L'ITALIANA IN ALGERI in Dresden. She also sang Mistress Quickly in Verdi’s FALSTAFF at the Cologne Opera House.”
- Bach Cantatas Website
“Dawn Upshaw's is a voice of many modes. Often, in her timbre, there is an edge-of-the seat tension that pulls the audience along inexorably, breathlessly and yet, miraculously, without ever making us tense ourselves. Elsewhere, she can produce a tone and a line so effortless, so restful, so serene that it conjures an effect of pure peace in sonic form. But there is more than voice to Upshaw's art. It is the way she places her ravishing sound at the service of her extraordinary communicative powers that captures our hearts and minds. A catch phrase with great currency among performers is the goal of ‘taking ownership of the music’. With Upshaw, the alchemy goes a step further: the music seems to take possession of her, so that she is no longer merely playing a character or shaping a melodic line but giving breath to the living spirit of the piece.”
- Louise T. Guinther, OPERA NEWS, April, 2013
"Though not possessing the vocal opulence associated with other star baritones of his era, Renato Capecchi was no vocal underachiever, and his feel for the Italian language and searching musical intellect made him one of the most valued singers of his time. His recorded performance of RIGOLETTO stands with the best for its mastery of the role's subtleties and dramatic truth. Likewise, as Rossini's Figaro, he captured both the quicksilver and pragmatic sides of that buoyant character. Capecchi's repertory was huge, encompassing hundreds of roles; as the years passed, he increasingly concentrated on the buffo parts, and eventually undertook directorial assignments, allowing him to share his theatrical fluency with other singers."
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
"Methodical, unflappable (he is said to have seldom raised his voice), and subtle in the ways of the French repertory, Jean Fournet saw his career extend over an extraordinarily long period. After having established himself in his native country, he proved a welcome addition to opera companies in America, where the French style had become something of a lost art. Beyond stage work, he proved, both early and late, a persuasive interpreter of the French symphonic literature. After studies at the Paris Conservatoire, Fournet made his debut in his native city in 1936; two years later, he was engaged by Rouen on a permanent basis. In 1940, he moved to Marseilles and, beginning in 1944, presided over the Paris Opéra-Comique as music director, simultaneously offering instruction in the art of conducting at the Ecole Normale. In the 1950s, he was involved in several recording projects that enhanced his reputation considerably, notably his Fauré REQUIEM and a lightly turned LES PECHEURS DE PERLES. Two further appointments awaited him in Europe before he turned to a regimen of guest conducting: in 1961 he became conductor of the Netherlands Radio Symphony, and from 1968 to 1973, he served as artistic director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. Fournet made his American opera debut with the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1965 directing a double bill consisting of a staged CARMINA BURANA and Ravel's magical L'HEURE ESPAGNOLE, the latter with Teresa Berganza, Alfredo Kraus, and Sesto Bruscantini. The conductor impressed immediately as one who could imprint elegance and respect for French style on his casts. His success led to further assignments, each helping reestablish the French wing in a city that had known great French artists in decades past. Among the productions were LES PECHEURS DE PERLES in 1966, another double bill (LE ROSSIGNOL and OEDIPUS REX) in 1968, WERTHER in 1971, PELLEAS ET MELISANDE in 1972, MANON in 1973, and DON QUICHOTTE in 1974. In 1987, Fournet made his Metropolitan Opera debut conducting a production of SAMSON ET DALILA. In addition to a number of orchestral discs, Fournet recorded the aforementioned LES PECHEURS DE PERLES for Philips with Léopold Simoneau and Pierrette Alarie, still unsurpassed. Fournet's Fauré and Berlioz Requiems are also impressive, likewise his 1973 Chicago MANON with Kraus and Zylis-Gara."
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com