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What happens in Werther?

The deeply passionate young idealist and poet Werther meets an inexperienced young woman who is bound to her family by duty.

Charlotte lives in a stuffy small provincial town unchanged in centuries, surrounded by those who have known her from childhood. She is engaged to Albert – decent, hard-working and steady – and she has promised her late mother to marry him and to provide stability for her many little siblings.

Werther becomes obsessed, and Charlotte begins a journey of self-discovery, wrestling with the values which have for so long underpinned her being. Massenet´s deeply romantic opera – a fabulous balance of emotion and restraint – is based on a Goethe story assumed to be biographical. But its end is tragic. When mutual love is finally allowed to flower, it is too late. At Christmas, as lights dance and flicker, Werther´s life fades as Charlotte´s arms enclose him.


Goethe´s story is set in the provincial German city of Wetzlar around 1770. In Massenet's French opera version, the story is transposed to1892: it is in this time that our new production is set.


Charlotte´s father - the city’s bailiff - tries to teach their youngest children a Christmas song (Noël!). Soon after, his two drinking buddies Johann and Schmidt join, amused at the bailiff's struggle to practice Christmas songs in the middle of summer. The bailiff's second daughter Sophie also appears in order to help with the children. The bailiff informs them that his oldest daughter Charlotte is getting ready for the evening's ball, and that the young poet Werther, visiting for the first time, is to accompany her. We understand from the conversation that Charlotte's fiancé Albert is away on business, and that their wedding is planned.

When Werther later arrives at the bailiff's house to escort Charlotte, whom he is meeting for the first time, he is overwhelmed by the glorious summer day and pays tribute to nature in poetic terms (O nature pleine de grâce). Suddenly he is interrupted by happy children's voices: it is Charlotte who is hurrying to give her young siblings supper before she leaves for the evening´s entertainment. Werther is completely captivated by what he sees.

The bailiff says that he has become a widower, and that it is Charlotte who takes care of the children and the house now that her mother is dead. After Werther and Charlotte have left for the ball, Albert suddenly arrives after having been away from town for six months. He is disappointed that Charlotte is not at home but tells Sophie that she must not reveal that he is back: he wants it to be a surprise for everyone the next day (Quelle priere de reconnaissance).

After Werther and Charlotte return from the ball, Werther confesses his love for her. Charlotte tells him what she promised her mother on her deathbed: that she must take care of the family and marry Albert. Werther despairs.


It is a brilliant and sunny Sunday, and Albert and Charlotte have been married for three months. Together with other guests, they flock to the church to celebrate the golden wedding day of the pastor. Werther observes Charlotte and her husband from a distance and he mourns the loss of what he has decided is the great love of his life (J’aurais sur ma poitrine).

Later, Albert returns to Werther, saying he understands Werther's despair, but that he forgives him. Werther, less than truthful, assures Albert that he now sees Charlotte as nothing but a good friend. The two men are interrupted by the fun-loving Sophie who says there is happiness in the air (Du gai soleil) - and that she’d like to celebrate and have the first dance with Werther. But Werther retires, ashamed at having lied to Albert about his love for Charlotte.

Charlotte arrives, and Werther again declares his passion for her. Charlotte, a little distraught, repeats that she must follow her duty and that she belongs to another. She demands that Werther leaves town, but weakens and asks him to come back later, at Christmas time. Werther says he will never return (Lorsque l'enfant revient d'un voyage).


Autumn has turned to winter, and on Christmas Eve Charlotte reads all the letters from Werther with despair and overwhelming emotion (Je vous écris de ma petite chambre). Sophie tries to cheer her big sister up, but to no avail. When Sophie is gone, Werther suddenly arrives. He and Charlotte exchange memories of the time before they were parted, and Werther quotes from a passionate poem he was in the process of translating (Pourquoi me réveiller?). The meeting is intense, but Werther leaves Charlotte abruptly.

Albert comes home and tells Charlotte he has heard from townsfolk that Werther has been visiting her. He also shows her a letter he has just received from Werther: "I'm going on a long journey. Will you lend me your guns?"

Charlotte senses a terrible looming tragedy and rushes away.


Charlotte finds her way to Werther’s house. She finds him wounded, but he forbids her to fetch help. They finally embrace and she declares her love before he dies in her arms.


WERTHER: 16th, 18th, 20th and 22nd March 2019 in Grieghallen


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