In Review: Mechavich and Edelson in Florida Grand Opera's "Werther"

"this production is new, and a creation from the ground up. While keeping the story firmly planted in the German countryside, the simple, abstract set by Michael Baumgarten is vast but sparse, giving a sense of the emotional loneliness that early on begins to bubble up in the characters. A one-dimensional, overgrown tree is at the center of the set. Letters hang from the branches instead of leaves. In winter, the tree has lost its “leaves,” and the letters are scattered on the ground.The scenic design’s simplicity leaves room for attention to the singers. . . Lawrence Edelson’s direction aligns with the set as he unfolds the show like the changing of the seasons, from Massenet’s sunny Act 1 to its sorrowful finale.An astute conductor realizes that Massenet’s music must be as emotive and expressive as the action onstage. Joseph Mechavich brings out the French Romantic’s lilting emphasis on strings and woodwinds in the opening strains and throughout the first act, and pushes his orchestra to full throttle for the tumultuous, dark and dissonant third and fourth acts. Onstage, the tug of war between duty and desire continues to build, while in the orchestra pit, the music heightens the tension.For an opera to run on all cylinders, all the elements must be in sync, from the direction to the singers and orchestra. Florida Grand Opera’s “Werther” has this and more, down to the letter."

-Miami Herald

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"Joseph Mechavich drew outstanding playing from the orchestra, and his pacing was masterful, alive to the score’s shifting moods. He did not pause at the conclusion of Werther’s famous aria and, while this deprived Pittas of an ovation, Mechavich kept the tension at fever pitch during the final confrontation between the protagonists. He also skillfully kept the brass from dominating the orchestral fabric, minimizing the orchestration’s Wagnerian overtones.The traditional production, directed by Lawrence Edelson, made no apologies for the romantic melodrama, portraying the action and characters realistically. Magical images of silhouetted lovers in the moonlight in the first act and Werther’s final meeting with Charlotte and death amid falling snow on Christmas Eve lit up the stage. . . .The first-night audience’s ovation at the opera’s conclusion was unusually long and enthusiastic for Miami. . . Musical Francophiles and lovers of great singing should not miss this near -flawless production of a romantic operatic classic."

-South Florida Classical Review.

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"The lens of idealistic affection was realized early, when the orchestra, under the baton of Joseph Mechavich, played the opening series of descending discordant chords, portending the audience's journey with the protagonist through a glass darkly. . . It is a difficult assignment to direct characters who are constantly in a heightened state of emotion. That line between performer’s becoming melodramatic rather than believable can easily get fuzzy. Stage director Lawrence Edelson skillfully kept his players from being overwrought, effectively keeping them honest. The taking of hands, the turning-aways, the conflicted hesitations, rang true. The staging of several couples dancing (including the newly acquainted Werther and Charlotte) was simple, elegant and tasteful. This opera is about character not spectacle. Feelings were expressed at all times. Tender moments, speaking substance. Edelson’s direction was measured with lovely pacing, nothing rushed, so the romance could build from innocence to something possibly profound. He drew natural reactions out of his performers, the only way to sell this story as believable with emotions in such a consistently heightened state. It is refreshing to recognize how Massenet scored the opera as a vehicle for a competent director to nurture honest relationships and feelings unforced by the constraints of time. . . Maestro Mechavich adroitly navigated the score, helming the excellent FGO orchestra."

-Miami Artzine

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"Florida Grand Opera’s brand-new production, directed by Lawrence Edelson in his FGO debut, took the literary origins of the opera to heart. Set design by Michael Baumgarten saw the characters gliding up and down a pair of inclines, decorated with illegible yet elegant lines of handwriting – Goethe’s, perhaps? – as though leaping to life from the pages of an open book. Baumgarten’s lighting design placed characters’ movements in stark silhouette against a minimalistic coloured backdrop, while a large, gnarled tree loomed above every scene, its leaves replaced by gossamer sheets of paper. The effect was darkly whimsical and visually captivating, allowing the drama to unravel within a framework of fiction – well-suited to the opera’s poetic exaggerations and high-flying emotions. . . Under conductor Joseph Mechavich, the FGO Orchestra performed Massenet’s score with attention to detail and a flair for drama." -Schmopera

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