Saturday, February 20 – Saturday, February 27, 2016
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The unfortunate Werther is disconsolate when his love, Charlotte, marries Albert instead. His sorrow intensifies as it becomes clear his desire will never come to fruition.
Debuted in 1892 Vienna and first performed in Philadelphia in 1909, Werther had its AVA debut in 1966. Our most recent production in 1980 featured Ruth Ann Swenson('82) as Sophie.
Charlotte is noted by many as perhaps the most affecting and endearing woman in Massenet's canon. Her yearning, passionate and poetic character pairs with Werther as one of the classic opera couples.
Massenet's moving score provides the elegant backdrop not only for the interactions of Charlotte and Werther, but also for the family scenes and children's choir (sung in this production by members of the Philadelphia Boys & Girls Choirs).
The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, production featuring Jose Carreras as Werther and Frederica von Stade as Charlotte can be heard on YouTube.
The curtain rises on the garden of the Bailli’s house. It is July. He is surrounded by six of his young children and is trying to teach them a Christmas carol. He jovially rebukes them for singing it badly and says that if their eldest sister Charlotte were there they would sing it better. The Bailli’s friends, Schmidt and Johann come by and remind the Bailli to join them later for a social evening. Sophie, Charlotte’s fifteen-year-old sister comes in and they talk of Werther, a rather melancholy young man destined for a diplomatic career. They also talk about Albert, who all think will make a good husband for Charlotte. Everyone goes inside the house.
Werther appears. He stands to one side and reflects on the summer evening atmosphere in the picturesque village. Charlotte, dressed for the ball that is to take place that evening, returns accompanied by her father and the children. Her partner is late, so she prepares a snack for the children. The Bailli introduces Charlotte to Werther, saying that Charlotte has taken care of the children since the death of his wife. Werther is struck by this scene of domesticity and goes off with Charlotte to the ball. Night is falling and everyone has left except Sophie. She too is about to go when she is detained by the unexpected arrival of Albert, Charlotte’s betrothed, who has been away for six months. They talk of the future, when he will be Charlotte’s husband. The garden now is filled with moonlight and Charlotte and Werther, in a mood of rhapsodic ecstasy, praises her beauty and devotion in the most poetic terms. Charlotte recalls the memory of her mother and speaks affectionately of her brothers and sisters. Werther is moved to declare his love for her, whereupon the Bailli’s voice is heard calling out: “Charlotte, Albert is back!” The spell is broken. Werther, learning that Albert is the man she is to marry, cries in anguish: “Another man is to be her husband!”
It is a Sunday afternoon in the following autumn. Schmidt and Johann, seated outside at the local tavern watch the faithful enter the nearby church to celebrate the pastor’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. Charlotte and Albert, now married for the past three months, appear arm-in-arm and tell of their contented life. They too are going to the pastor’s celebration. Werther has watched them from afar and bitterly regrets that he has lost Charlotte. Albert emerges from the church. He intuitively understands the cause of Werther’s distress and sympathizes with his feelings. Werther, impressed by this gesture, replies that he will be loyal to them both. Sophie joins in the conversation with her characteristic gaiety. Werther wonders to himself whether he will ever be happy again. Sophie and Albert go into the church and Werther remains alone. When Charlotte comes out of the church, he cannot prevent himself from speaking again about his love for her and nostalgically recalls their first meeting. Charlotte warns him that she belongs to another. She adds that he must try to forget and tells him to go away and not to return till Christmas. Alone again, Werther gives way to despair. Sophie’s invitation to join in the wedding celebration is brusquely rejected. He leaves her in tears with the remark that he will never return. When she passes on the news, it is obvious to Albert that Werther still loves Charlotte.
It is Christmas Eve in Albert’s home. Charlotte is alone and rereads the letters Werther has been sending her and realizes now that despite herself, she loves him as much as ever. Even Sophie’s innocent optimism is unable to dispel Charlotte’s somber mood. She weeps disconsolately as her heart is torn by the conflict between love for Werther and her moral principles. Werther suddenly appears, pale and desolate. He has returned at the appointed time but his period of absence has done nothing to quell his passion for Charlotte. Together they evoke tender memories of the harpsichord to which they sang and the books they used to read, especially the romantic ballads of Ossian. Werther grows more passionate, but Charlotte, making a supreme effort, forces herself to leave. Rejected, Werther disconsolately flees the room. Albert returns and is puzzled by Charlotte’s obvious agitation. A servant hands him a note from Werther asking if he may borrow Albert’s pistols, as he is about to go on a long journey. The pistols are duly dispatched. The sinister meaning of the note dawns on Charlotte, who rushes off to find Werther.
Charlotte arrives in Werther’s study to find him mortally wounded, lying on the floor. He asks her forgiveness, though she, driven by remorse, claims to be the one in need of forgiveness. She confesses that she too has loved him since they first met. He begs a kiss for a dying man. She returns his kiss. At the distant sound of children singing Christmas carols, Werther dies, leaving Charlotte in utter despair.