Tuesday, February 07, 2012
Jules Massenet in 1892, the year of the premiere of “Werther”. Massenet was fifty years old at the time.
“Werther”, completed in 1887, was premiered in Vienna at the Court Opera because the Paris theater originally scheduled to present the first performance of the opera had burned down—and other Paris theaters had refused to perform the work because it was “too gloomy” for Parisian audiences.
Having commissioned a ballet from Massenet, the Vienna Court Opera learned that Massenet for five years had had in his portfolio a completed, not-yet-performed opera taken from Goethe—and offered to present the first performance.
Belgian tenor Ernest Van Dyck sang the title role in the Vienna “Werther” premiere.
The Vienna performances were a success, and led to the first Paris performances of the work the following year.
“Werther” is now Massenet’s most-performed opera, eclipsing in recent decades the once-popular “Manon”.
However, between the 1920s and the 1960s, the opera virtually disappeared from the repertory outside France. It was only in the late 1960s that opera houses outside France once again began presenting “Werther”—and, since the late 1970s, “Werther” has become a staple of opera houses everywhere, gaining in popularity decade-by-decade.
It is now unthinkable for any house to ignore the opera.