Lyrical drama in four acts (five scenes)
Libretto by E. Blot, P. Mille and G. Hartmann
Baritone or bass
Baritone or bass
Baby voices soprano
Friends of the judge
Brühlmann, young man
Charlotte, the daughter of a judge
Sofya, her sister
Ketchen, a young girl
Karl, Gretel, Clara
A peasant boy, a servant
Residents of the town of Wetzlar; guests and musicians.
The action takes place in the vicinity of Wetzlar near Frankfurt (Germany).
Time: 1772 year.
In the judge’s house, sonorous children’s laughter, Christmas songs are heard. Charlotte is preparing for a ball, which will take place in the suburb of Wetzlar. For the first time, the dreamy Werther visits the judge’s house. The guests are gathering. But Werther does not notice anyone – her thoughts and feelings are completely taken over by Charlotte. Together with her, he goes to the ball. Everyone diverge. The night is coming. Suddenly arrives the bride of Charlotte – Albert. Learning that he is still remembered and loved, the lucky Albert leaves the judge’s house so that he can appear before the bride without warning. Charlotte and Werther return from the ball. From her words, he learns that Charlotte has vowed a late mother to marry Albert. Werther in despair.
A festive Sunday in Wetzlar; people rush to the temple. There also go and Charlotte with Albert. There is a longing Werther. His dreams of happiness are in vain. Charlotte is the wife of another. Albert tries to reassure Werther.
On Christmas Eve Charlotte sits alone in the living room. She thinks of Werther, reads his letters; especially her frightened last letter, full of despair and yearning. Sophia, worried about her sister’s condition, tries to dispel her dark thoughts, telling about the upcoming holiday. Werther comes in unexpectedly. In vain did he swear to himself that he would rather die than return to Charlotte. The appointed day has come, and here it stands in front of her. Charlotte is agitated; she tries to hide it, but Werther reads in her eyes a declaration of love. Charlotte breaks out of Werther’s embrace – she can not change her debt, Werther remains alone; he is depressed; Only death can bring him comfort. About the arrival of Werther learns Albert. At this time, the servant brings a letter from Werther with a request to lend pistols to the road. Shocked by Charlotte, on Alberta’s orders, submits resignedly to their servant. But,
Mortally wounded Werther does not hear the words of Charlotte bending over him. Finally he recognizes her. Werther prays at Charlotte’s forgiveness. He asks that he be buried at the end of the cemetery, where there are two limes; under their shadow, he would like to find eternal peace. Werther is dying. From the judge’s house the cheerful voices of children, laughter and joyful cries, the guests celebrating Christmas are heard.
“Werther” is a lyric opera. A touching love drama about the death of illusions and hopes is depicted in Massenet’s music with an expressive, psychologically sensitive and flexible melody, subtle and elegant orchestral colors.
In the introduction to the powerful chords of the orchestra, which evokes the idea of an irresistible formidable force, the tender tunes of the strings resist. With the advent of Werther, music acquires an agitated hue. His arioso “Brezzhu I, il visions pass a string” imbued with a dreamy-poetic mood. The second arioso “O nature” is full of reverential feelings. A small arioso “Oh my fair ideal” is imbued with passion. Enthusiastically, the recognition of Werther with enthusiasm “I’m in love with happiness”.
The orchestral introduction to the second act draws the carefree merriment of the townspeople. Dialogue between Albert and Charlotte “So, three months” conveys a feeling of calm happiness and mutual trust. Arioso Werther “I would know possession” is permeated with a passionate longing for lost happiness. The scene of the meeting between Werther and Charlotte begins with the lyrical music of the first act, then a new melody, filled with secret passion, sounds; dramaticism grows up to the end of the act.
The orchestral introduction to the third act embodies the mood of an unaccountable yearning that reigns in Charlotte’s monologue. Her arioso “Ah, let these tears flow” is imbued with inconsolable sadness. Charlotte’s Appeal “My God, Creator!” it is executed hot and passionate pleas. Werther’s inspired romance “Oh, do not wake me” is one of the most popular opera fragments.
The first picture of the fourth act is a pantomime scene; its music is painted in gloomy, oppressive tones1.
The last picture is the denouement of the drama. Tenderly and tranquilly, Werther’s Arioso sounds “No! .. You’ve acted honestly.” Charlotte’s passionate confession answers “Yes… from the day you showed yourself to my eyes.” Mental peace and tired detachment are heard in the last phrases of the dying Werther. In sharp contrast, the voices of children glorifying Christmas are heard.
1 In some productions, the music of this picture serves as an orchestral interlude (“The Night Before Christmas”) to the final picture of the opera.