Vivaldi Meets Werther is a traditional retelling of Goethe’s famous story The Sorrows of Young Werther, woven through the four seasons. It exquisitely recreates Vivaldi’s passionate music and perfectly paints a picture of unrequited love, ending with a dark twist. This is interspersed with Samuel Lawrence’s monologue as Werther. This amalgamation is seamless to begin with and the two feel wholeheartedly bound together. However, as we journey into Vivaldi’s Autumn and Winter, the music and story feel less connected. The two components become less poetically intertwined and the portrayal of the narrative isn’t as considered as the stunning beginning. Overall the concept is highly intriguing, executed in a very conventional way, but the power of this re-imagined narrative does not quite match the power of the music.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s epistolic novel follows the story of Werther’s overwhelming and unrequited love for Charlotte, drawing out a series of intense emotions from rapturous happiness to deep anguish. The story was highly popular in 1775 Germany and gained worldwide renown for inspiring the effect known as ‘Werther Fever’ (falling in unrequited love and becoming self-destructive as a consequence). In this version, lead violinist Alda Dizari plays Charlotte, while Lawrence breaks the musical interludes with Werther’s rhythmical monologues. Goethe’s influential story is a clear love triangle between Werther, Albert and Charlotte but only two of these characters appear in this version – Werther and Charlotte. This doesn’t allow the nuanced details of the story to shine through. For lovers of the original, it falls short of grasping the deep complexity of Werther’s pain and Charlotte’s tested loyalties.
Vivaldi’s Spring concerto matches Goethe’s “excess of happiness” that Werther experiences when meeting Charlotte. This slowly turns to frustration through Autumn and tragedy hits as we reach the heart rendering Winter. It’s delightful to see this extremely emotive music being played out before our eyes and the overall drama of the piece feels initially very exciting. But as the epistolary reaches its inevitable sad ending, the music feels too jolly so the pairing feels jarring. Vivaldi Meets Werther: Four Seasons is a fantastic concept by Pamela Schermann, but it is a bold approach, as Vivaldi actually wrote The Four Seasons with a very different, strong narrative.
The whole show however is made magnificent by Dizari’s impeccable violin playing. She is a world class violinist who meticulously executes every note of Vivaldi’s striking concerto. She acts entrancingly as Charlotte, drifting across the stage with elegance and style. The passion with which she performs is intense and her playing of Winter is invigorating. Alongside her is the equally commendable string quartet who create a truly heart racing experience.
Lawrence acts in-between these seasons of music in a very traditional Shakespearean style, which is appropriate to the language. However, this comes across wooden at times and I yearn to see more authenticity in his acting. It’s very dramatic and feels almost fake at times, which clashes with the splendid musicians.
Vivaldi Meets Werther could have made more of the relationship between Charlotte and Werther as we move through Autumn and into Winter. Even at the end of Goethe’s writing there is some suggestion that Charlotte was deeply upset by Wether’s death. Regardless of some plot discrepancies, listening to this stunning music and sublime poetry is sure to be an exquisite night at the theatre. The passion with which the musicians play is extraordinary and Goethe’s epistolary is delightfully poetic.
Vivaldi Meets Werther: Four Seasons played the Bridewell Theatre until 30 August. For more information visit the Opera in the City Festival website.