Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The scrim curtain in front of the Opera House stage Wednesday told the whole story of the opera that was about to be seen: "The Sorrows of Young Werther," it said, in French. Massenet's opera on the subject is certainly an exploration of the mood suggested by the title of Goethe's famous book.
The entire movement of the opera is sedate, placid, and largely static. Goethe's tragic hero never moves at anything but a measured pace, clearly reflecting the poetic unreality that eventually leads him to suicide. The trouble with the piece is that, aside from the six younger children of the Bailiff and his radiant 15-year-old daughter, Sophie, everyone in the whole affair moves at the same rate. With Massenet's music to encourage them in their adagio course, things do go very slowly indeed.
To overcome the lassitude that might easily envelop an entire audience, the Opera Society offered a "Werther" with Metropolitan Opera settings, San Francisco Opera costumes and one of the world's greatest artists in the title role.
Nicolai Gedda's every movement is a model for singing actors, his enunciation in any language flawless, his sense of style impeccable, his singing a thing of glory,filled with lambent colors and splendid sounds. From his initial entrance, filled with hope, to his disillusioned death, Gedda offered a faultless portrait, ideal in bearing, superb in song.
All that was best in his evening was most vividly captured in hisgorgeous singing of "Pourquoi me rveiller," though his closing scene, in half voice, was fully as impressive.
Fortunately there were other attractions. Georgine Resick as Sophie made her coming departure for German opera houses even more a matter for regret. In her lovely appearance and exquisite singing, she was a rachant star.
Her French enunciation, too, was a pleasure.
The role of Charlotte becomes a juicy one after a slow start. In act three a great singer can achieve a major triumph. Joann Grillo lets too many opportunities pass her by. Her words are unclear, her voice often marred by a fast vibrato, the top of the voice rather hard, and she does not move the listener in the Letter Scene, for example, as many other singers have.
Jean Perisson conducted in leisurely fashion an orchestra that had its moments. The makeup and wigs of Charles Elsen were again of the finest caliber, the lighting by Patricia Collins subtle. Alas for that ghastly organ sound in act two. Something could be done.