Opera Scotland

Werther

Music
Jules Massenet (born Montaud, nr Saint Etienne, 12 May 1842; died Paris, 13 August 1912)

Text
Edouard Blau, Paul Milliet and Georges Hartmann.

Source
Novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).

 

Premières
First performance: Vienna (Hofoper), 16 February 1892.
First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 11 June 1894.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 27 April 1983.
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 27 April 1983.

 

Background
Massenet’s opera derived from The Sorrows of Young Werther was composed between 1885-87 and was turned down by the Opéra-Comique. When Manon was successful in Vienna, Werther was seen as an appropriate follow-up, in a German translation by Kalbeck, and has since been almost as popular as Manon. The opera is set in the small town of Wetzlar, north of Frankfurt, where Goethe was living at the time of writing.

 

Main Characters
Le Bailli, a magistrate (bass)
Charlotte, his elder daughter aged 20 (mezzo-soprano)
Sophie, his second daughter aged 15 (soprano)
Two of the magistrate’s friends:
Schmidt (tenor)
Johann (bass)
Werther, a poet aged 23 (tenor)
Albert, betrothed to Charlotte, later her husband (baritone)

 

Plot Summary
Charlotte and Sophie live with their widowed father, and look after the household, which includes six younger siblings. At the outset, in summer, the magistrate rehearses the younger children in the garden as they sing a Christmas carol. Werther watches Charlotte preparing food for the younger children, and the magistrate then introduces him. Sophie is left in charge while the adults go to a ball. In their absence, Albert calls to enquire about Charlotte. When they return from the ball, it is clear that Werther loves Charlotte, and is loved in return, but Charlotte explains she has obeyed her late mother’s wishes and become engaged to Albert. Werther then leaves the area for a few weeks, and on his return finds Charlotte married. Albert tries to interest him in Sophie instead. But Werther cannot conceal his continuing love for Charlotte and goes away, intending not to return. On Christmas Eve, Charlotte admits that she still loves Werther and is affected by the letters she receives from him. Werther calls, and they have an emotional meeting but she is determined to stay with her husband. Werther later sends a message to Albert, asking if he can borrow his pistols, since he is going on a journey. Albert asks Charlotte to give the pistols to the messenger. She then rushes to Werther’s house, fearing the worst. She finds him mortally wounded after shooting himself, and he dies in Charlotte’s arms.

The Cast

Albert
 engaged to Charlotte
Brühlmann
 
Charlotte
 the magistrate's eldest child
Johann
 a neighbour
Kätchen
 
Le Bailli
 a magistrate
Schmidt
 a neighbour
Sophie
 the magistrate's second daughter
Werther
 a young poet

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