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Werther is an opera in four acts by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Édouard Blau, Paul Milliet and Georges Hartmann based on the German epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Although Massenet wrote and completed his opera in 1887, it did not receive any performance until it premiered at the Imperial Theatre Hofopermarker in Viennamarker on February 16, 1892, in a German version translated by Max Kalbeck. It had a great success. The French-language premiere followed in Genevamarker on December 27, 1892, and the first performance in France was at the Opéra-Comiquemarker, Parismarker on January 16, 1893.

The United Statesmarker premiere at Metropolitan Opera took place in Chicagomarker on March 29, 1894, and then in the company's main house in New York Citymarker three weeks later. The UK premiere was at Covent Garden, London, on June 11, 1894.

Werther is regularly performed and has been recorded many times. By general critical consensus, the finest and most idiomatic performance on disc remains the January 1931 French Columbia recording of the complete opera, sung by Georges Thill, Ninon Vallin and Germaine Feraldy, and featuring the Paris Opera orchestra and chorus under the baton of Élie Cohen. In addition, many of the greatest French and Italian singers of the past century or more have recorded individual arias from Massenet's masterwork.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, February 16, 1892
(Conductor: Wilhelm Jahn )
Charlotte, a young woman mezzo-soprano Marie Renard
Sophie, her sister soprano Ellen Foster-Brandt
Werther, a young poet tenor Ernest van Dyck
Albert, betrothed to Charlotte baritone Fritz Neidl
Le Bailli, Charlotte's father bass Mayerhofer
Schmidt, a friend of the Bailli tenor Schlittenhelm
Johann, a friend of the Bailli baritone Felix
Bruhlmann, town fool, young poet tenor
Katchen, Bruhlmann's fiancée of seven years mezzo-soprano


Time: July to December 1780.
Place: The outskirts of Frankfurtmarker.

Act 1

The widowed Bailiff teaches his younger children a Christmas carol, surprising his two neighbors, Schmidt and Johann, for it is July. Charlotte dresses for a ball. Since her intended, Albert, is away, she is escorted by Werther whom they find gloomy. Werther arrives and watches as Charlotte prepares her young siblings' supper, just as her mother had before she died. Werther greets Charlotte with a kiss, and they leave for the ball. Albert returns unexpectedly after a six month trip. He is unsure of Charlotte's intentions and disappointed not to find her here, but is reassured and consoled by Sophie. He leaves after promising to return in the morning. Werther and Charlotte return very late, and he is already enamoured with her. His declaration of love is interrupted by the announcement of Albert's return. Charlotte recalls how she promised her dying mother she would marry Albert. Werther despairs.

Act 2

It is three months later, and Charlotte and Albert are now married. They walk happily to church, pursued by the gloomy Werther. Sophie tries to cheer him up. When Charlotte exits the church, he speaks to her of their first meeting. Charlotte begs Werther not to try to see her again until Christmas day. Werther contemplates suicide, but leaves quickly when Sophie greets him. Charlotte comforts the tearful girl who does not understand his cruel behavior. Albert now realizes that Werther loves Charlotte.

Act 3

Charlotte is at home alone on Christmas Eve. She spends time rereading Werther's letters to herself, wondering how the young poet is and how she had the strength to send him away. Suddenly Werther appears, and while he reads her poetry, he realizes that she returns his love. They embrace for a moment, but she quickly bids him farewell. He leaves with thoughts of suicide. Albert returns home to find his distraught wife. Werther has sent a message to Albert requesting to borrow his pistols, explaining he is going on an extended trip. A servant is sent to deliver the pistols. Charlotte has a terrible premonition and hurries to find Werther.

Act 4

At Werther's apartment, Charlotte has arrived too late. Werther is dying. She consoles him by declaring her love. He asks for forgiveness. After he dies, Charlotte faints. Outside children are heard singing a Christmas carol.

Noted arias

  • Act I - Werther: "O Nature, pleine de grace"
  • Act II - Sophie: "Du gai soleil, plein de flame"
  • Act III - Charlotte: "Va, laisse couler mes larmes"
  • Act III - Charlotte: "Werther! Qui m'aurait dit /Ces lettres!" (Letter Scene)
  • Act III - Werther: "Pourquoi me réveiller?"

Selected recordings




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