Werther Synopsis

Jules Massenet's 4 Act Opera

Jules Massenet
Jules Massenet. Royal Opera House Covent Garden/Flickr/Public Domain Mark 1.0

Composer: Jules Massenet

Premiered: February 16, 1892 - Imperial Theatre Hofoper, Vienna

Other Popular Opera Synopses:
Mozart's The Magic Flute, Mozart's Don Giovanni, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, Verdi's Rigoletto, & Puccini's Madama Butterfly

Setting of Werther:
Massenet's Werther takes place in Wetzlar, Germany in the early 1780s.

The Story of Werther

Werther, ACT 1

Despite it being July, Bailiff, who is widowed, is busy teaching his children a Christmas carol in their garden.

They are watched by their neighbors, Schmidt and Johann, who find it very amusing. When they get a moment, Schmidt and Johann inquire about Bailiff's daughter, Charlotte, who is engaged to Albert. Bailiff tells them that since Albert is not currently in town, Charlotte will be escorted to this evening's ball by the young poet named Werther. After their conversation, Bailiff returns to his home for supper and Werther arrives. Werther speaks enthusiastically about the beauty of the evening while spying on Charlotte as she prepares supper for her younger siblings. After everyone is finished eating and prepared for the evening, Charlotte and Werther depart for the ball while Bailiff tucks in his children and heads out to the tavern. Unexpectedly, Albert returns home only to find all the adults are gone. He speaks with Charlotte's little sister, Sophie, and tells her he will be back in the morning.

That night after the ball, Werther confesses that he has fallen in love with Charlotte, but before he can get it all out, they are interrupted by Bailiff who passes them on his way home from the tavern. Bailiff notices some of Albert's belongings and announces that Albert must be home. Werther becomes discouraged and insists that Charlotte remain faithful to her promise to marry Albert.

Werther, ACT 2

Three months pass and Charlotte and Albert walk hand in hand to church while passing through the town square. Werther, who is clearly depressed, follows behind them. Before going into the church, Albert tries his best to cheer up Werther. Even with young Sophie's help, they are unable to lift up Werther's spirits. Later, when Charlotte exits the church, Werther talks with her about their first meeting. Charlotte is worried for his well-being and advises him to leave town until Christmas. Perhaps, he'll be able to overcome his emotions without her and Albert in sight. Dejected, Werther mopes away and starts to contemplate committing suicide. Sophie manages to catch up to him and interrupts his destructive thought process. After shouting at her, he runs off leaving Sophie in tears. As Charlotte reassures Sophie, Albert realizes that Werther must be in love with Charlotte which would explain his erratic behavior.

Werther, ACT 3

Sitting at home by herself on Christmas Eve, Charlotte decides to read through all the letters sent to her by Werther again. She is overcome with grief and prays for strength. Out of nowhere, Werther has returned and surprises her. She did tell him to leave and not return until Christmas, after all.

Werther finds her reading his letters, and she asks him to read a passage from his translation of Ossain. He begins reading aloud an excerpt about the poet foreseeing his own death. Charlotte begs him to quit reading. It dons on Werther that she must love him, otherwise, she would not become so distraught. When he goes to embrace her she runs away as she says her last goodbye. Werther is overcome with sadness. He decides to take his life to end his emotional agony. When Albert returns home, he finds Charlotte nearly inconsolable. Moments later, a message is delivered to Albert. It's from Werther; he asks to borrow Albert's pistols. Charlotte immediately tells Albert not to comply. Judging by her quick reaction, Albert knows that Charlotte has feelings for Werther. He makes Charlotte herself hand over the pistols to his servant who will take the guns to Werther.

After Albert leaves, Charlotte runs out of her house hoping to reach Werther before it is too late.

Werther, ACT 4

Charlotte bursts into Werther's home only to find that, to her horror, Werther had shot himself. While lying on the ground mortally wounded, Charlotte holds him in her arms and confesses that she loves him. She apologizes and begs for his forgiveness. While breathing his life's last breaths, a chorus of children sings the Christmas carol her father taught them months before.