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May 21, 2012

Still haunted by tenor aria from Massenet's 'Werther'

Although I have heard a lot of music since attending Washington National Opera's production of Massenet's "Werther" a week or so ago, I keep being haunted by "Pourquoi me reveiller," the tenor aria in the third act. It plays on continual loop inside my pathetic little head. (I even hunted around for a ring tone version the other day, which might be going too far.)

I figured I might as well share my passion for this extraordinary aria, which combines so much feeling, from the deeply introspective to the passionately outspoken. (And this will give you something to chew on while awaiting my reviews of the plays and concerts I caught over the weekend.)

Just the first 12 notes of "Pourquoi me reveiller" get me every time -- so simple, yet so poignant. How perfect they are to draw you into Werther's melancholy.

Some folks think of Massenet as ...

a lightweight. I can't, not when confronted with this aria (or the rest of "Werther," not to mention "Manon").

Here are three golden-oldie versions of "Pourquoi me reveiller," only one of them in the original French -- a melody like this really does speak a universal language. I hope you like the amazingly poetic performances by these honey-toned tenors, Cesare Valletti, Ferruccio Tagliavini and Sergei Lemeshev, as much as I do. If you don't have time for all three, make sure you hear Lemeshev:

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:52 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes


3 great's a few more for you to enjoy. As i am sure you did, I had a hard time picking which 3. Perhaps you are familiar with these 3 greats, if not, enjoy! If so, enjoy the reminder. Great article too, we all need reminders that opera does indeed transcend language, and goes for the throat (or heart, really).
Georges Thill:

Alfredo Kraus:

Nicolai Gedda:

Thanks for writing. Yes, I know those versions well. Thill, of course, set the gold standard, certainly for authentic style. (I'll always wonder why he didn't do a re-take of the aria for the complete opera recording; perhaps that little blip felt too real yo re-do.) And Gedda is one of the gods in my book. Kraus, too, never fails to impress. Anyway, it's the aria that keeps on giving. TIM

Six of the best of the best. My own personal favorite? Gedda, Gedda, Gedda

And Gedda. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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