“It’s emphatically a romance, albeit a tragic one, complete with solo strings that echo and double the on-stage nearly-but-not-quite-lovers. But in DiDonato and Grigolo’s hands it’s something much darker.
DiDonato’s Charlotte was always going to be fascinating. How would a singer of such energy, such an active force on stage, tackle a character whose defining characteristic is not doing – not kissing Werther (until too later), not defying her mother’s wishes, not allowing herself to feel or act on her desires?
Taking all that energy and pushing it inwards, DiDonato gives us a Charlotte with a complicated inner life – outwardly quiet and self-possessed, but only at a cost. That cost becomes suddenly and violently visible in Act III, where a protracted moment of stillness, back to the audience, releases into a volatile sequence of emotions (“Ah! mon courage m’abandonne”/”Va! laisse couler mes larmes”). This Charlotte is no prig, but a woman old beyond her 20 years, in the habit of duty and obedience, of putting her own wishes last.
DiDonato’s reading of Charlotte’s love as a slow-burn passion, creeping gradually into focus . . .”
Alexandra Coghlan – New Statesman
“She contributes a third-act soliloquy of such magnificence I finally understood why she so wanted to do this opera.
Everything she does oozes class, including her response to the huge ovation at the end; a proper artist responding to her public with humility.”
David Mellor – The Daily Mail
“Neither Joyce DiDonato (Charlotte) nor Vittorio Grigolo (Werther) had sung their roles before, but they proved perfect for the parts. DiDonato has one of the finest mezzo-soprano voices around today, together with the acting ability and intelligence to cut through the slush and bring real emotional substance to the part.”
William Harston – Express
” . . . it is the two principals who count, and in this revival of Benoît Jacquot’s 2004 production, the Royal Opera have cast two of the world’s biggest current stars: Vittorio Grigolo and Joyce Di Donato. Both voices were in fine form . . .
DiDonato’s creamy-smooth mezzo is totally capable of anything that Massenet can throw at it and she sings Charlotte with an assurance that belies the fact that this is the first time she has done so on stage (she sang the role in concert in Paris in April). Timbre, dynamics and phrasing are all wonderful, but it’s a very difficult role to characterise: Charlotte has to combine being the epitome of propriety and adherence to duty on the outside with repressed inner passions on the inside, allowing these to burst through to the surface only in the last act . . .”
David Karlin – Bachtrack
“In some ways, Joyce DiDonato’s Charlotte was at an opposite pole: for much of the opera she made her effects by means of understatement – a willingness to let effects emerge as much through the words (her diction was superb) as through the music. And then, when at last the floodgates open, her vocality was all the more moving and persuasive.”
Roger Parker – Opera Magazine
“The leads are, well, extraordinary. In or out of character, Vittorio Grigòro can be a born showman and Joyce DiDonato exuberance itself – so what brilliant casting to let them loose on this brooding, thorny, inward-facing piece. Two utterly committed, serious performances (not that I’d expect otherwise!): vocally, they pulled out all the stops when appropriate but could totally convince in quieter dynamic mode, to give us ‘thinking aloud’, interior monologue, uncertainty, anguish. I had the sense that they were directing their energy and fire into making Werther and Charlotte real, angsty, 3D . . . JDD’s Charlotte is a gloriously physical performance, from twirling when playing with her younger siblings, through constant fidgeting as she waits in the house, to fighting Werther off … even through to moving him around and hauling him up when he’s at death’s door. As opera demands, it was ‘proper’ acting, writ large: generous gestures, enormous impact.
Please go to one of the remaining performances if you can. The music will stir your soul, the singers break your heart … and the ideas lodge themselves in your subconscious. A superb achievement.”
“This fine revival of Benoît Jacquot’s very successful 2011 production by Andrew Sinclair sees a few changes . . . So much the better, and with Joyce DiDonato and Vittorio Grigolo, both making their stage debuts in the main roles, this was as good as it gets . . .
DiDonato’s singing reached a magnificent emotional tension that already began to emerge in the tranquil music of their Act I duet. The roars of the audience for both of them at the end were eloquent testimony to what may go down as one of the great performances in recent years.”
“This opera, however, stands or falls on the quality of its leads, and here we benefit from luxury casting in the form of mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and tenor Vittorio Grigòlo. While they have not performed together before, there is clearly a real chemistry between them, and their acting together is credible and empathetic throughout. DiDonato rightly plays Charlotte, not as a vulnerable, clueless ingénue, but as a mature woman acutely aware of the consequences of choices. There is a restraint to her performance early on that draws you into her personal dilemma very movingly. This is especially evident in the ‘letter scene’ of Act 3, and then the pay-off comes when she lets herself go in the final love duet during Werther’s death scene.”
Tim Hochstrasser – Plays to See
“In mezzo Joyce DiDonato and tenor Vittorio Grigolo this second revival of Benoit Jacquot’s elegant production certainly gets the right voices. Grigolo, who last week described himself (without a trace of irony) as ‘the voice of Italy’, deploys a wonderfully honeyed and shaded bel canto tone, to which DiDonato’s delicately-inflected Gallic sound makes the perfect foil.”
Michael Church – Independent
“To complete the gold-star revival are two glamorous stars, Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo as Werther and American diva Joyce DiDonato as Charlotte . . . DiDonato is in radiant form.”
Clare Colvin – Sunday Express
“Joyce DiDonato sang with a sense of style and focus which recalled the older French, Opera Comique-style of performance. She made a fine pairing with Grigòlo, as both combined a sense of style with a feeling of the role pushing them to the edge. This was a finely detailed performance, in Acts One and Two she positively quivered with suppressed passion. The letter scene was profoundly moving, as well as being beautifully sung. Rather than relying on gut passion, this was a superbly crafted performance with a fine sense of style. It made you wonder which other roles in the French repertoire DiDonato could take on, certainly I would love to hear her in the Opera Comique version of Ambroise Thomas’ Mignon.”
“The star power is provided by Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo and American mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato. Star power is a relationship between audience and singers that turns the potentially lachrymose into the beautifully emotional . . . DiDonato is unassailable in her singing of Charlotte, the woman who loves Werther but cannot requite his passion because her high moral standards.”
“Joyce DiDonato as Charlotte is the real hero, credibly fighting extra-marital temptation. Her reading of Werther’s ardent letters – a miniature song cycle ever growing in intensity – was wonderful.”
“Musically, and in terms of acting, it is hard to imagine that there could have been a better performance . . . utterly gripping, and the climax was some of the most heart-rending opera I have ever heard. Joyce inhabits the role so convincingly and sings so expressively – from ppp to fff and with the whole gamut of emotions.”
“In terms of singing performances Grigòlo and DiDonato are both phenomenal as they chart the difficult course of the relationship between Werther and Charlotte. Grigòlo’s Werther is almost bursting with passion by the time we get to the final two Acts, while DiDonato’s Charlotte is clearly aghast at the recognition of where her actions and passions have led them. The characterisation is all there in the singing voices and they are both utterly compelling and impressive.”
“. . . the one who brought tears to my eyes was Joyce DiDonato’s Charlotte . . . I was totally convinced . . . Her bright, vibrant voice managed to convey all the complexity of Charlotte’s feelings, with superb belcanto coulouring and a classy French diction. And then I was blown away by her letters scene in Act 3. That was so intense, the cataclysm of Charlotte’s turmoil flowing from her like lava from a volcano, the voice stretched to its limit, as if throwing all caution away . . . absolutely amazing. I want to hear that again . . .”
“Who said that Puccini and Tchaikovsky gave us the height of operatic passion? Try the later stages of this revival of Massenet’s Werther, when Joyce DiDonato, Vittorio Grigòlo and Antonio Pappano really let themselves go. The emotional temperature hits boiling point. The air sizzles . . .
DiDonato is more of a French stylist and uses subtle colours to sketch in the character of Charlotte . . . in the all-powerful third act DiDonato rises to the occasion. The voice fills its sails . . . no other pair has set the stage alight here as they do.”
Richard Fairman – Financial Times
“. . . how beautifully and sensitively she sang, her Yankee freshness of personality irradiating every note: the Letter scene of the third act became all the more powerful for being so restrained and her cradling of Werther’s dying corpse was heart-rendingly tender. Yet she never over-egged Charlotte’s girlish innocence; here was a woman who knows that one must stick with one’s choices in life.”
Rupert Christiansen – The Telegraph
“Joyce DiDonato’s Charlotte: the gentle radiance of the latter’s supple mezzo rises to belatedly liberated passion in Act 3, when the reluctantly married heroine’s stoical attempt to keep her true feelings under wraps gives way under the violent impact of Werther’s unexpected reappearance.”
George Hall – The Guardian
“Vittorio Grigòlo and Joyce DiDonato are outstanding as Werther and Charlotte respectively . . . Alongside the trademark attention to detail in phrasing, DiDonato brings a glow to her sound that makes us feel the intensity of Charlotte’s feelings. She can at times, however, apply a slightly harder edge to aid both clarity and the sense of anguish, and her performance of ‘Werther! Qui m’aurait dit / Ces lettres!’ is a real highlight of the evening.”
Sam Smith – musicOMH
” . . . Werther is reignited by a powerful performance from the orchestra under Antonio Pappano and by the casting of Joyce DiDonato as Charlotte and Vittorio Grigolo as Werther . . . Cradled in sable strings and serenaded by alto saxophone, her Va! Laisse couler mes larmes has the intimacy of a chanson . . . emotional nakedness and scrupulous attention to the text make this belated confession devastating. It’s a pivotal moment in the opera and the performance: a bridge between her style and his that allows proper connection in the final scene.”
Anna Picard – The Times
“Joyce DiDonato perceptively conveys the torment of Charlotte’s struggle to reconcile her duty to Albert and her stirring love for Werther . . . the expression is thrilling.”
Edward Bhesania – The Stage
“. . . there was a warmth and impulsiveness that revealed a strong connection with Massenet’s sweet melancholy. Gratifyingly, the gloves were off in her powerfully sung Act Three, and in Werther’s death-scene, which can seem unduly prolonged, things flowed and soared with tragic eloquence . . . her portrayal’s restraint and natural ease, at-one with the idiom of the music, was very affecting.”
Peter Reed – Classical Source
“. . . Joyce DiDonato made the most convincing, interesting Charlotte that I’ve seen. I prefer a Charlotte with a bit of bite in the voice and a bit of personality . . . I thought she did the letter aria gloriously and, together with Grigolo, made his death really moving. It’s great to see one of my favourite mezzos in a role that challenges her and which she manages really well.”