Lyrical drama in four acts and five scenes by Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
Libretto by Edouard Blau, Paul Milliet and Georges Hartmann after the novel «The Sorrows of Young Werther» by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
In French with German and English surtitles. Duration 2 H. 45 Min. incl. interval after 1st part after approx. 1 H. 15 Min. Introduction 45 min before the performance.
Christmas songs are being rehearsed at the bailiff’s house in the middle of summer. The widowed master of the house himself is practising with his children, for his eldest daughter Charlotte, who has been running the household with great care since her mother’s death, is dressing for the festive village ball, which she will attend with young Werther. Friends of the family, Johann and Schmidt, drop by. They poke fun at the curious singing lesson and want to take the bailiff out with them to the inn.
Werther comes to fetch Charlotte for the ball. He is enraptured by her and the world in which she is at home. Charlotte gives the children their supper and asks her younger sister Sophie to take care of the little ones while she is out. Charlotte and Werther set out for the ball.
Charlotte’s fiancé Albert returns from an extended business trip and finds only Sophie at home. Albert is happy with his love for Charlotte and looking forward to seeing her again. He wants to surprise his bride with his return the next day.
Late in the night, by the light of the moon, Charlotte and Werther return from the ball. He emphatically confesses his love for her. She remembers her mother’s death and the oath that she swore on her deathbed – that she would take care of the family and her younger siblings like a mother.
The intimate conversation ends abruptly when the bailiff reminds Charlotte of her fiancé by calling from a distance that Albert has returned. Werther falls into despair over the fact that his beloved Charlotte is promised to another.
It is Sunday, and a golden wedding is being celebrated. Johann and Schmidt comment on the festivities. Charlotte and Albert, who are now married, are also present. Werther appears, sees Charlotte at Albert’s side and dreams of what it would be like if he himself could spend his life with Charlotte.
Albert understands Werther’s feelings, speaks comfortingly to him and draws his attention to Sophie, who herself attempts to cheer up the unhappy man and arouse his interest in her.
Werther, however, is entirely wrapped up in his heartache. He undertakes to renounce Charlotte and go away from her, but during another, private encounter he is once again overwhelmed by his feelings. He reminds her of the tender moments they shared at the ball.
Charlotte remains aloof and vigorously rejects him, telling him that he must leave. She now belongs to her husband Albert, but could perhaps envisage seeing him again at Christmas. Werther remains alone with thoughts of suicide.
Sophie comes again to take Werther to the party. In despair, he announces his intention of going away for ever.
It is Christmas Day, and Charlotte is alone. Her feelings for Werther are stronger than she wanted to admit to herself. Unable to quell her great longing, she reads his passionate letters to her over and over again, shuddering at the bleak allusions to suicide they contain.
Sophie comes to visit, detects her sister’s melancholy mood and makes her promise to celebrate Christmas evening at their parents’ house.
Once Charlotte is alone again amid mounting despair, Werther suddenly stands before her. He could do nothing other than return to her on the day that she had named at their last encounter. The pair reminisce about the beautiful moments they have shared. Charlotte shows Werther the songs of Ossian, which they once read together. Deeply moved, he once more reads a few lines to her. Her emotional reaction leads him to believe that she is also in love with him. They fall into each other’s arms.
Then, however, Charlotte regains her composure and declares that they must never see one another again. Werther now takes the irrevocable decision to kill himself.
Albert has learned of Werther’s secret visit. Just as he is taking Charlotte to task about it, a messenger delivers a letter from Werther in which he announces that he is about to embark on an extended journey and asks Albert to lend him a pistol. Albert orders Charlotte to hand it over to the messenger.
Werther has shot himself with Albert’s pistol. Charlotte finds him, mortally wounded. She feels she is to blame for his deed and acknowledges that she loves him as deeply as he does her. She gives him the kiss that he has always dreamt of receiving from her.
As he lies dying, Werther is happy and says that this moment does not mean the end of his life, but only just the beginning.
The children’s Christmas songs can be heard from afar. Werther dies.