- Jules Massenet. Drame lyrique in four acts. 1887.
- Libretto by Edouard Blau, Paul Millier and Georges Hartmann, after Goethe's
novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of the Young Werther).
- First performance at the Hofoper, Vienna, on 16th February 1892.
|Werther, a poet, aged 23 ||tenor|
|Albert, aged 25 ||baritone|
|Le Bailli (The Magistrate), aged 50 ||bass|
|Schmidt, his friend ||tenor|
|Johann, another friend ||bass|
|Charlotte, daughter of the Bailli, aged 20 ||mezzo-soprano|
|Sophie, her sister, aged 15 ||soprano|
|The Bailli's six other children ||children's voices|
It is July and the widower Bailli practises a Christmas carol with his children. His friends
Schmidt and Johann call, inviting him to the inn to discuss a coming ball, at which Werther will
partner Charlotte, in the absence of her fiancé Albert. Werther enters, praising the beauty of nature
and watching Charlotte. Albert returns, but thoughts of love now arise in Werther, as he and
Charlotte come back from the ball. He declares himself, but Charlotte recalls her promise to marry
Albert. By the second act Charlotte and Albert have been married for three months. They join other
townspeople in the church, where the pastor's golden wedding is being celebrated. Outside,
Werther expresses his pain and bitterness, although he reassures Albert of his present friendship for
him and his young wife. Werther has a meeting with Charlotte and resolves to take her advice and
go away for a time, although even now he has thoughts of suicide. At Christmas Charlotte reads
again the letters she has had from Werther, while Sophie, her younger sister, tries to comfort her.
Werther returns and at first behaves calmly, until Charlotte draws his attention to a book of Ossian
that he had once started to translate, the words of which fit his mood of growing despair. They
embrace and Albert now shows signs of overt jealousy, as he questions Charlotte. Werther seeks to
borrow Albert's pistols, as he plans a long journey, and Albert tells his wife to hand them to him. In
the fourth act Charlotte finds Werther dying in his study, held in her arms, as children's voices sing
outside of Christmas.
Goethe's novel of 1774, reflecting something of his own experiences and those of people he
knew, had a strong influence on his contemporaries. In two parts, the first in the form of letters, the
work was characteristic of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) period of German culture in the
1770s and had an influence even on dress and behaviour. Young men came to favour the blue coat
and yellow breeches of Werther and some brought their lives to a similar conclusion, perhaps after
his example. Massenet's operatic treatment of the work came more than a century later in an opera
of marked dramatic contrasts. In 1902 Massenet made an arrangement of the part of Werther for a
baritone. Manon and Werther remain Massenet's best known operas. Werther's song in praise of
nature, O Nature, pleine de grâce (O Nature, full of grace) verbally echoes the Ave Maria in a
suggestion of romantic pantheism and there is much that is moving in Charlotte's Air des lettres
(Letters Aria) in the third act, in which Werther has his song from Ossian, Pourquoi me réveiller?
(Why rouse me?).