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Jules Massenet 1842–1912

Lyric Drama in 4 acts
Libretto by Edouard Blau, Paul Milliet & Georges Hartmann
First performed February 16 1892, Hof Opera, Vienna

Production purchased from the Nederlandse Opera Amsterdam in cooperation with the Opéra de Lyon
First seen in Frankfurt December 11 2005
Sung in French with German & English surtitles

Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 mins before performances begin and available here on video shortly before opening night

A July evening. The Bailli, a magistrate and widower, is trying to teach his children, and daughter Sophie, a carol. His friends Johann and Schmidt try and persuade him to come for a drink but he says his eldest daughter Charlotte, who looks after the children, is going to a ball. Werther is Charlotte's escort because her fiancé, Albert, is away. Johann and Schmidt think Albert's an ideal husband for Charlotte – they find Werther, a serious minded poet, rather strange. They leave, having made the Bailli promise he'll join them later. Werther arrives. He finds the setting idyllic, a paradise. He hears the children singing – it seems to him that their souls are full of light. Werther's moved to see Charlotte tenderly caring for the large family. They leave for the ball. Sophie promises to look after the children and sends her father off to meet his friends. Albert returns unexpectedly, longing to see Charlotte. He asks Sophie what's been happening during his six months absence. Sad not to find Charlotte at home, he asks Sophie to keep his return a secret - he'll come back tomorrow. Charlotte and Werther return from the ball. They find it difficult to part. He says that his soul has recognised hers, her eyes are his happiness, his hope. He mentions the children, which brings her back to reality. She hears that Albert's back and tells Werther that she promised her dying mother that she would marry Albert. Horrified, Werther says she must keep her oath, even though it will kill him. ACT II 3 months later. Johann and Schmidt enjoy the glorious weather and sing Bacchus' praises. Charlotte and Albert are going to church. Werther's come back and sees them together. He's now obsessed by his love and the hopelessness of his situation. Albert sees that he's upset and feels guilty that he should be so happy when Werther's so sad at not having Charlotte’s love. Werther tells him he no longer loves Charlotte, that storms pass, friendship remains and this alone will be his happiness on earth. Bubbly Sophie comes in. She asks Werther to dance with her but he refuses. Werther again professes his love to Charlotte. She tells him that Albert loves her, and she is his wife, that he must leave and not see her again. The thought of not seeing her again is unbearable. She relents and says he may visit them at Christmas. The distraught manner of his departure makes it plain to Albert that Werther's still in love with his wife. ACT III Christmas Eve. Charlotte's re-reading Werther’s letters. She realises that  she loves him too. Sophie can tell she's been crying and tries to cheer her up. She asks her to come and enjoy Christmas with the family. Werther arrives and they remember the happy hours they spent together. He asks for one kiss. She begs God to protect her from herself and from Werther. He begs her to admit that she loves him as he loves her but she manages to regain her self-control and orders him to go. Werther says that she has pronounced his sentence and leaves in great distress. Albert comes home and, sensing the tense atmosphere, guesses what's happened. He's heard that Werther's been seen nearby. A servant brings a message from Werther announcing his immediate departure „on a distant journey“ and asking his friend to lend him a pistol. Albert grimly orders Charlotte to give it to the messenger. Though horrified, she obeys. Driven by hideous foreboding, she hurries off to try and prevent the imminent tragedy. ACT IV Werther has shot himself. Charlotte arrives. He begs her not to call for help. There's nothing she can do except to confess that she has loved him from the first moment and grant him their first, and last kiss. Children can be heard singing a carol. To Werther they sound like angels. At peace with himself at last, he dies in her arms.

Werther suffers under social conventions and longs for freedom. No human relationships make him feel secure until he meets Charlotte, who‘s engaged to be married ... Goethe’s The Sufferings of Young Werther is regarded as the main work which went down in the history of literature as a byword for »sensitivity« during a wide-spread craze. Written in the form of letters, which ends in him committing suicide, it caused a scandal in the 18th century - and an entire generation started wearing the Werther’ish colours of yellow and blue. This Drame lyrique in four acts, which gives us a glimpse, in its dramatic climax, of “verismo” to come, is one of the most impressive adaptations of Goethe’s book. Director Willy Decker explores the discrepancy between the lovers' longings and reality, between hope and resignation in Wolfram Gussmann's abstract set.