In Washington National Opera's season finale, British bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams plays the rival of "Werther," the poet whose unrequited love for Charlotte ends in tragedy. His U.S. opera debut with the company in "Tamerlano" several seasons ago was so impressive that he was invited back to portray Albert in this production and Leporello in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" in September.
"The role of Albert calls for a dramatic baritone," he said. "The music suits my voice well because he is a dark character. I view him as a damp squid of a fellow because everyone loves him at first. He is kind, generous and successful until his personality changes and he becomes manipulative when things don't go his way."
"Charlotte soon is afraid of him, and we see the fine line between people you first love and end up hating. The audience has a great deal to absorb. This is not a huge spectacle. Sometimes there are only one or two people on the stage, so we've focused on getting a lot of detail into the story."
|Where: Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F St. NW|
|When: 7 p.m. May 12, 14, 19; 7:30 p.m. May 17, 22, 25; 2 p.m. May 27|
|Info: $25 to $300; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org|
This is only the fourth time in more than 50 years that National Opera has presented "Werther." For this occasion, the production is updated to the 1920s, when the world is recovering from World War I and people are expanding their sights.
"The setting is ambiguous," Foster-Wiliams said. "It's a small town that could be anywhere in the world, not necessarily Germany as in the original opera. The costumes reflect the jazz decade and the liberation many people felt at that time. The young went a bit wild and spent too much money. Others reacted to the trauma of the war by becoming more conservative and implementing prohibition. Werther was one of the liberated, while Albert was sensible and conservative. Charlotte was in the middle."
Several days prior to the opening night of "Don Giovanni" in September, Foster-Williams will present an opera master class in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. He enjoys coaching young singers wishing to learn more about the craft and remembers welcoming constructive criticism when he was in their position. Once the opera opens, he will focus on Leporello, one of his favorite roles.
"This character goes on a huge journey with so many twists, turns and subtleties," he said. "He has many dimensions that some people confuse with his being a buffo character. They believe that he is not intelligent, but I think that he is both humorous and very intelligent. In contrast, his master, Don Giovanni, is much more one-dimensional with a single purpose in mind. He doesn't learn from things that don't go his way, whereas Leporello does. I love playing baddies, so this will be great fun."