Living-Room 'Werther'

After the Metropolitan Opera cancels performances, two lead singers perform via social media

17 Mar 2020 | 11:25

At 3:00 on Sunday afternoon I was supposed to be at Lincoln Center for an all-Brahms (my favorite composer) concert by the Rotterdam Philharmonic, with soloist Emanuel Ax (one of my favorite pianists). Concert halls and theaters in NYC are closed, so that didn't happen. Instead at 3:00 I was at home, watching and listening to a different kind of live performance on my computer, which quickly became one of the most moving musical experiences of my life.

It was excerpts of Jules Massenet’s gorgeous "Werther," which was to have opened at the Metropolitan Opera Monday night, sung by the two leads, Joyce DiDonato and Piotr Beczala, in the living room of her Manhattan apartment. She was barefoot, he wore a suit but no tie. Pianist Howard Watkins and harpist Emmanuel Ceysson accompanied them.

Composed in 1896, "Werther" is the height of romantic tragedy, with doomed lovers and a suicidal hero who dies in the heroine’s arms. DiDonato and Beczala sang the world away as thousands of people from all over the world watched on Facebook and Instagram. A river of heart emoticons bubbled up on the right, with another river of comments – “Love from Warsaw,” “This is pure magic,” “Loved watching in the UK in pjs!” “Imagine living next door” – alongside. It made me weep, and not just because so much of the music is heartbreaking. DiDonato was crying, too, and took a Kleenex break!

This was the perfect example of the power of art, and added to it the generosity of four great musicians. I'll never forget it. And guess what? It’s on YouTube now, in two parts, so you can see for yourself.