(4 out of 5 stars)
"If you are a hi-fi buff then don't bother with this - though the stereo sound is actually superior to most live opera recordings - but there is a fountain on stage in Act 1 which is just about audible all the way through and some clumpy stage noises. But this shouldn't put you off what is an unmissable, thrilling, intense performance that knocks spots off most of the recent studio recorded competition. A must for Domingo fans - he sings with real ardour and some beautiful head voice passages, though his French is not the most idiomatic - he and Fassbaender (whose way with the French text is to the manner born) strike incredible sparks in the long duets of Acts 3 and 4. Jesus Lopez-Cobos's tempi are fast, and some might find a lack of Gallic fragrance and delicacy; instead he makes Massenet sound like an early Italian verismo composer and plays up the echoes of Tchaikovsky and even Mahler. A performance where every corner is taken on two wheels - it must have been shattering to have been there. Buy this!"
The best all-around 'Werther'?
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 06/03/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While drifting through The Gramophone's various reviews of Werther recordings, I noticed that this live Bavarian Opera performance from 1977 was considered the best all-around version. I took a chance and bought it sight unseen through Amazon Marketplace, and for sheer excitement, as well as virtuosic singing, it outstrips the notable sets with de los Angeles-Gedda and Gheorghiu-Alagna (both on EMI). The two leads, Birgitte Fassbaender and Placido Domingo, don't aim for elegant or even idiomatic French style. They are committed to a visceral, verismo performance that shifts the idiom to that of Fedora and Adriana Lecouvreur.
For me, Massenet's besetting sin is his ingrained timidity--his fans call it refinement--which permits him only brief stretches of drama before he reverts to polite manners and local color. Werther is the great exception--it is a concetrated tragic work once we get to Acts 3 and 4. Domingo and Fassbaender apply increasing tension throughout, completely transcending the improbability, even self-indulgence, of Werther's obsession with Charlotte.
The stereo sound from Bavarian Radio is excellent, needing not the slightest excuse. Only occasionally do we get slight stage noises and a burst of applause after Domingo's superlative "Pourquoi me reveiller." But the radical portrayal here is Fassbaender's: she throws out Charlotte's passive sweetness and makes her a desperately trapped woman, someone worth committing suicide over. It takes a great singer to pull off such a switch, and Fassbaender, a natural risk-taker, is at her greatest here. Lopez-Cobos conducts like a man on fire--we don't get every detail of the score, as with Pappano for EMI, but we don't get a glib or simpering moment, either. Five stars, definitely."