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Massenet's Werther

Duration:
2 hours, 50 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 21 November 2009

Presented by Donald Macleod.

In a new Opera North production directed by Tom Cairns, Richard Farnes conducts tenor Paul Nilon and mezzo-soprano Alice Coote in Massenet's four-act opera Werther.

The work was written after the composer read Goethe's novel The Sorrows of the Young Werther while in Bayreuth to hear Wagner's Parsifal. While initially seen as too gloomy for audiences, it is now perhaps Massenet's most popular opera, giving an insight into the deep recesses of the human psyche although on the surface appearing to be a straightforward tale of love and death.

It tells the story of impossible love between Werther, a passionate young poet, and Charlotte, the eldest daughter of a local family. She has promised her dying mother that she would marry another man and, although his love for her is reciprocated, it becomes impossible after she marries. Ultimately, Werther's obsession leads him to take his own life, destroying those of Charlotte and her family.

Werther ...... Paul Nilon (tenor)
Charlotte ...... Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano)
Sophie ...... Fflur Wyn (soprano)
Albert ...... Peter Savidge (baritone)
The Magistrate ...... Donald Maxwell (bass)
Johann ...... Richard Burkhard
Schmidt ...... Joshua Ellicott
Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North
Richard Farnes (conductor).

  • Alice Coote in conversation with Donald Macleod

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    Presenter Donald Macleod talks to mezzo-soprano Alice Coote about performing the role of Charlotte.

    Photo: Clive Barda

  • Paul Nilon in conversation with Donald Macleod

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    Tenor Paul Nilon talks to Donald Macleod about performing the role of Werther.

    Photo: Clive Barda

  • Richard Farnes - extended interview with Donald Macleod

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    Conductor Richard Farnes talks to Donald Macleod about the challenges and joys of conducting Opera North's production of Werther.

  • Tom Cairns in conversation with Donald Macleod

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    Radio 3 presenter Donald Macleod discusses Opera North's new production of Werther with its Director, Tom Cairns.

  • Production scene - Act 2

    Production scene - Act 2

    Fflur Wyn as Sophie [right of lady in red suit, stage left]; Richard Burkhard as Johann [centre stage left], Joshua Ellicott as Schmidt [right of Richard Burkhard] and Paul Nilon as Werther [far right].

    Photo: Clive Barda

  • Charlotte

    Charlotte

    Alice Coote as Charlotte.

    Photo: Clive Barda

  • Werther

    Werther

    Paul Nilon as Werther.

    Photo: Clive Barda

  • Charlotte and Sophie

    Charlotte and Sophie

    Alice Coote as Charlotte and Fflur Wyn as her sister, Sophie.

    Photo: Clive Barda

  • Albert and Charlotte

    Albert and Charlotte

    Peter Savidge as Albert with Alice Coote as Charlotte.

    Photo: Clive Barda

  • Synopsis - Act One - July

    The Magistrate, a widower, is teaching his children a Christmas carol in the yard of the family home, to the amusement of his friends, Johann and Schmidt, who drop by on their way to the bar. They ask after Charlotte, the eldest daughter, who is dressing for the local ball taking place that evening.

    Werther, a newcomer to the town whose reputation has impressed the Magistrate, is to escort her. The conversation turns to Albert, Charlotte’s fiancée, and when he will return after months away.


    Werther arrives and is charmed by the idyllic domestic scene. Charlotte feeds the children their supper and the Magistrate explains to Werther that since the death of her mother, Charlotte has tirelessly taken charge of the house. Seeing her tenderness to the family, Werther begins to fall in love with her.

    After the party leaves for the ball, Sophie tells the Magistrate to join Johann and Schmidt at the bar. She is alone when Albert unexpectedly returns. He learns that Charlotte has gone out, but that everyone is looking forward to their wedding. Albert is filled with happiness and promises to return in the morning.

    Later that night, Werther accompanies Charlotte home and tells her that he has fallen in love with her. Feelings have begun to stir in Charlotte as well, but the moment is
    cut short by her father announcing the return of Albert. Charlotte tells Werther of her mother’s dying wish that she marry Albert. Werther is devastated.

  • Act Two - September

    Sunday.

    Johann and Schmidt look on as people file into the church to celebrate the Pastor’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. Albert, now married to Charlotte, asks her if she is happy as his wife.

    Werther despairs privately that Charlotte could have been his.
    Albert tells Werther he understands that his own good fortune is at the price of Werther’s pain. Werther conceals his feelings and assures Albert of his loyalty to the
    friendship which has grown between them.

    Sophie interrupts them and demands the first dance with Werther at the celebrations.

    Werther seeks out Charlotte but she refuses to admit her true feelings to him. Out of duty to her marriage, she asks him to leave, but relents and tells him to come back on
    Christmas Eve.

    Werther realises that being separated from Charlotte will not help him; he would rather kill himself than live without her.


    Werther tells Sophie he is going away for ever, leaving her shaken and confirming Albert’s suspicions that he is still in love with Charlotte.

  • Act Three - December 24

    Christmas Eve, at the house of Albert and Charlotte. Albert is away, and Charlotte sits alone, reading the letters Werther has sent her.

    Sophie visits and is deeply concerned by the distressed state of her sister. She implores her to join their father and the children for Christmas. Charlotte sends her away on the promise that she will. W

    erther suddenly arrives as Charlotte prays for strength. They remember the happy hours they have shared, playing music and reading poetry. He pleads with her to confess her
    love for him once and Werther has nothing to live for.


    Albert returns. He has heard that Werther has been seen and demands to know if he has visited the house. As Charlotte avoids replying, a servant brings a letter from Werther, in which he asks to borrow Albert’s guns to take on ‘a long voyage’.

    Albert forces Charlotte to give them to the servant. Charlotte knows what will happen. She races from the house, hoping she can reach Werther in time.

  • Act Four - Later that night

    Charlotte arrives too late. Werther has shot himself and is slowly dying.

    He asks for forgiveness. Charlotte at last declares her love for him.

    As the children sing carols outside,
    Werther dies.

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