The concept alone makes this production intriguing: two famous artistic works – one musical, one literary – being paired up to provide a new way to experience each of them.
Pamela Schermann splices together a rendition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with Goethe’s pro-romantic novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. Passages of music are interwoven with extracts of Werther’s letters which comprise the novel, delivered by Samuel Lawrence as Werther. Just as the music moves through the stages of the year, so the narrative traces Werther’s various psychological transitions. The spring of his youthful, carefree passion for the betrothed Charlotte inevitably collides in due course with the reality of her marriage to another and the impossibility of his position. Ultimately his emotional journey arrives at a place of a wintery solitude, leading him on to take drastic steps to curtail his bleak future.
The music is thus used so as to echo and amplify Werther’s state of mind; Schermann also goes one further, staging it such that violinist Alda Dizdari actually embodies Charlotte’s character. This clever invention brings a dynamism to the stage, which might otherwise be lacking given that the two forms alternate rather than overlap. It also serves to bring a certain parity between the music and the text, each playing a role in developing the narrative. Dizari’s performance is energetic and bold and more than a match for Lawrence’s intense portrayal of Goethe’s tragic hero!
While the approach may be somewhat experimental, it is certainly based on safe principles: the irresistible combination of music and storytelling exercises a particularly powerful force. So it will be little surprise that the production succeeds in capturing the audience’s attention for the full duration. The passages of music are substantial enough to enable real appreciation of the piece; while the extracts of Werther are sufficient to provide context even for those unfamiliar with the story.
The Four Seasons is one of those pieces that’s heard so often (and not always by choice: think lifts, call centre queues…) it can be hard to really listen to it. So use of it in this way, grafted onto another point of reference, obliges the audience to engage with it afresh. This is the production’s clear achievement – providing perhaps a proof of concept that could be applied gainfully to other such pieces.
Music: Antonio Vivaldi
Text: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, adapted by Pamela Schermann
More details can be found here
Vivaldi Meets Werther: Four Seasons ran at Bridewell Theatre on 27th, 29th and 30th August 2019 as part of Opera In The City Season.