"Werther" is one of Rolando Villazón's signature roles and it's easy to see why; he brings both intensity and vulnerable sensitivity to the part of the anguished poet, and he's a terrifically nuanced singing actor. All of the elements of the live 2011 performance from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in fact, are so strong that this recording easily takes a place among the most effective and affecting accounts of the opera. Antonio Pappano, music director of the Royal Opera House, draws impassioned playing and sumptuous, sensual tone from the orchestra. The group responds beautifully to Pappano's subtly inflected and dramatically charged vision of the score. Villazón's magnetism, charisma, and pearly vocal beauty inevitably take center stage, but the other singers are also fabulous, each delivering a musically and dramatically memorable performance. Sophie Koch's Charlotte is touchingly innocent and her portrayal convincingly grows in complexity as her character's moral universe spins out of control. The encounters between Villazón and Koch are always electric, and the climax to the third act is almost unbearably wrenching. Audun Iversen's baritone is so rich and warm that he makes Albert a more sympathetic character than usual. As the Bailiff, Alain Vernhes conveys a full-voiced joviality, and Cheri Nakamura's Sophie is lively and vocally supple. The sound is exceptionally clean and well balanced for a live performance, and the ambience is realistically dramatic. This is a "Werther" that no fan of the opera or of Villazón will want to miss.