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Work

Jules Massenet

Jules Massenet Composer

Werther (opera)

Performances: 89
Tracks: 563
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Musicology:
  • Werther (opera)
    Year: 1887
    Genre: Opera
    Pr. Instrument: Voice
    • Act 1
      • 1.Prélude
      • 2.Assez! Assez! M'écouterat-on cette fois?
      • 3.Bravo pour les enfants!
      • 4.Alors, c'est bien ici la maison du Bailli?
      • 5.Je ne sais si je veille
      • 6.Jésus vient de naître! Chers enfants!
      • 7.Ah! comme ils sont meilleurs que moi!
      • 8.Arrivez donc, Brühlmann!
      • 9.Ô spectacle idéal d'amour et d'innocence
      • 10.Monsieur Werther! Vivat Bacchus, semper vivat!
      • 11.Sophie! Albert! Toi de retour!
      • 12.Elle m'aime! Quelle prière de reconnaissance
      • 13.Interlude: Clair de lune
      • 14.Il faut nous séparer
      • 15.Mais vous ne savez rien de moi
      • 16.Rêve! Extase! Bonheur!
      • 17.Charlotte! Charlotte! Albert est de retour!
    • Act 2
      • 1.Prélude
      • 2.Vivat Bacchus! Semper vivat!
      • 3.Allez, chantez l'office
      • 4.Trois mois! Voici trois mois que nous sommes unis!
      • 5.Un autre est son époux!
      • 6.J'aurais sur ma poitrine
      • 7.Si! Kätchen reviendra, je vous dis!
      • 8.Au bonheur dont mon âme est pleine
      • 9.Frère, voyez! Voyez le beau bouquet!
      • 10.Ai-je dit vrai? L'amour que j'ai pour elle
      • 11.Ah! qu'il est loin ce jour
      • 12.N'est-il donc pas d'autre femme
      • 13.Oui, ce qu'elle m'ordonne
      • 14.Lorsque l'enfant revient d'un voyage avant l'heure
      • 15.Mais venez donc! le cortège s'approche
    • Act 3
      • 1.Prélude
      • 2.Werther! Werther! Qui m'aurait dit la place
      • 3.Ces lettres!
      • 4.Des cris joyeux d'enfants montent sous ma fenêtre
      • 5.Bonjour, grande soeur!
      • 6.Va! Laisse couler mes larmes
      • 7.Tiens, Charlotte, crois-moi, ne reste pas ici
      • 8.Ah! mon courage m'abandonne!
      • 9.Oui, c'est moi! Je reviens!
      • 10.Ha! bien souvent, Pourquoi me réveiller
      • 11.N'achevez pas! Hélas!
      • 12.Ah! Moi! Moi, dans ses bras!
      • 13.Soit! adieu donc!
      • 14.Werther est de retour
    • Act 4
      • 1.Entr'acte: La Nuit de Noël
      • 2.Werther! Werther! Rien!
      • 3.Qui parle? Charlotte, ah! c'est toi!
      • 4.À cette heure suprême, je suis heureux
      • 5.Noël! Noël! Noël! Dieu! Ces cris joyeux
      • 6.Ah! ses yeux se ferment!
      • 7.Non, Charlotte, je meurs
      • 8.Jésus vient de naître
Premiered in Vienna, in February 1892, under the direction of Hans Richter, Massenet's Werther has proven an enduring work, one of the composer's most tightly constructed and dramatically urgent. The libretto was fashioned by writers Georges Hartmann, Edouard Blau, and Paul Millet, after Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther. The serviceable text worked to keep the focus on the insistent love of the protagonist and the object of his passion.

Ironically, not only was Werther's premiere conducted by a figure most closely associated with Brahms and Wagner, but it is in Germany that the opera has found ongoing favor—even though critics and audiences there have often taken issue with treatment of their revered Goethe by French composers. At the premiere, the title role was undertaken by the famous Belgian tenor Ernest van Dyck. For its 1894 American premiere in Chicago (a touring performance by the Metropolitan Opera), Werther was sung by the legendary Jean de Reszke. The appeal of the melancholy Werther was so strong that Italian baritone Mattia Battistini persuaded Massenet to provide for him a revision suitable for baritone. Rather than rewriting most of the Werther's vocal lines, Massenet simply wrote alternatives for certain higher-lying phrases.

Massenet has been accused of having been a limited composer, writing within a narrow emotional and expressive framework. Yet, for Werther, he located and fixed himself on the very marrow of his hero's despair. The drama, while manifested in outward action, is primarily internal. Werther falls undeniably in love with the 20-year-old Charlotte. She senses the stirrings of love as well, but feels bound to honor her betrothal to Albert, an engagement planned by her mother. Werther cannot suppress his desire. The love which blossomed in summer still demands expression in autumn even after Charlotte is married. Its denouement takes place in winter, to the accompaniment of the Christmas carol first heard as the children rehearse it in July.

While the music serves the drama in compellingly straightforward fashion, two set pieces have become favorite moments, often excerpted as concert items. Charlotte's "Letter Scene" at the beginning of Act Three is a despairing meditation on passion versus responsibility. Werther's aria later in that same act, "Pourquoi me," is anguished questioning, all the stronger for its not becoming an operatic rant full of theatrical outbursts. Sung by a great artist, it can be heartbreaking.

Massenet was not unwilling to bow to public demands for spectacle and overcooked orchestration, but in Werther he remained true to Goethe's youthful drama written more than a century before. Massenet's restraint serves Goethe well. The feelings of the doomed pair boil more intensely for being contained until impending death allows them ultimate abandon. Werther's death brings him surcease, but for Charlotte, only a future of emptiness.

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Portions of Content Provided by All Music Guide.
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