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Massenet's Werther

2 hours, 50 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 04 June 2011

The passionate young poet Werther meets Sophie, and falls instantly in love with her. Sophie falls for him too, but had promised her dying mother she'd marry Albert, and can't break her vow. Werther won't accept this, leading to tragic consequences for everybody. Massenet's Goethe-based opera is performed at the Royal Opera House with star tenor Rolando Villazon and Sophie Koch as the doomed lovers. Antonio Pappano conducts, and talks to Andrew McGregor about his view of the opera.

Presented by Andrew McGregor

Werther ..... Rolando Villazon (tenor)
Charlotte ..... Sophie Koch (mezzo-soprano)
Albert ..... Audun Iversen (baritone)
Sophie ..... Eri Nakamura (soprano)
Magistrate ..... Alain Vernhes (bass)
Johann ..... Darren Jeffrey (baritone)
Schmidt ..... Stuart Patterson (tenor)

Conductor ..... Antonio Pappano
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

  • Rolando Villazón As Werther

    Rolando Villazón As Werther

    (C) The Royal Opera / Ashmore 2011

  • Sophie Koch as Charlotte

    Sophie Koch as Charlotte

    Alain Vernhes as The Bailli
    (C) The Royal Opera / Ashmore 2011

  • Audun Iversen As Albert

    Audun Iversen As Albert

    (C) The Royal Opera/ Ashmore 2011

  • Eri Nakamura As Sophie

    Eri Nakamura As Sophie

    (C) The Royal Opera/ Ashmore 2011

  • Rolando Villazón As Werther and Sophie Koch As Charlotte

    Rolando Villazón As Werther and Sophie Koch As Charlotte

    (C) The Royal Opera/ Ashmore 2011.

  • Rolando Villazón As Werther, Sophie Koch As Charlotte

    Rolando Villazón As Werther, Sophie Koch As Charlotte

    (C) The Royal Opera/ Ashmore 2011.

  • Production scene from Act I

    Production scene from Act I

    Alain Vernhes As The Bailli, Darren Jeffery As Johann, Stuart Patterson As Schmidt (C) The Royal Opera/ Ashmore 2011

  • Act I - A village near Frankfurt towards the end of the 18th Century

    The garden of the Bailli’s house; an evening in July

    The Bailli is rehearsing his children in a Christmas carol. Two friends, Johann and Schmidt arrive and congratulate the children. Sophie, the second daughter of the Bailli, appears and they all discuss the ball set for that evening. Mention is made of Werther, a young poet staying in the neighbourhood, and Schmidt asks after Albert, fiancé to the Bailli’s eldest daughter Charlotte, and who is soon to return to Wetzlar. Johann and Schmidt leave in anticipation of the evening’s drinking, the Bailli ushers his children indoors and Sophie goes to find Charlotte.

    Werther arrives, overcome by the beauty and tranquillity of the surroundings; hearing the rehearsal indoors he muses on the children’s innocent happiness. Charlotte enters, and Werther watches unobserved as she gives the children their tea. The Bailli notices Werther and presents the children and Charlotte to him. Werther is moved by Charlotte’s devotion to the children. Charlotte and Werther leave for the ball; Albert arrives and is greeted by Sophie. He asks if he is still remembered after six months’ absence.

    Orchestral interlude: Moonlight

    Charlotte and Werther return from the dance. He declares his love for her, but she tells him how her mother’s early death has left her to take care of the family. Werther becomes increasingly passionate until the Bailli calls from the house that Albert is back. Charlotte tells Werther of her promise to her dying mother to marry Albert. Werther is plunged into despair.

  • Act II

    A Sunday in September, outside a church in Wetzlar.

    Three months have passed and Charlotte is now settled in her marriage to Albert. As usual, Johann and Schmidt are drinking, while the organ can be heard from inside the church. Charlotte and Albert walk together to the Sunday service, observed by Werther who imagines the happiness with Charlotte that he has lost.

    When Albert comes out of the church, he speaks kindly to Werther, acknowledging that he may have been in love with Charlotte before her marriage. Sophie interrupts the conversation by bringing a bunch of flowers for the Pastor, who is celebrating his golden wedding anniversary that day. Albert suggests to Werther that he think of marrying Sophie.

    Charlotte arrives from the church. Werther’s obvious infatuation leads her to insist he leave and not return until Christmas. Werther’s immediate reaction is to think of suicide. He leaves. Albert, returning, sees Charlotte’s sadness at Werther’s departure. He Understands that Werther is still in love with her.

  • Act III

    Albert’s house on Christmas Eve
    Missing Werther deeply, Charlotte rereads his letters to her and fears he might not return at Christmas. Sophie interrupts and tries in vain to console Charlotte.

    Left alone, Charlotte fervently prays to God for help. Werther appears in the doorway. Depite Charlotte’s efforts to resist, their meeting turns increasingly to one of passion. Overcome by guilt, she bids Werther a final farewell and rushes from the room.

    Albert returns, aware that Werther has been there. He summons Charlotte and notices her distress. A message arrives from Werther requesting the loan of Albert’s pistols. Albert commands Charlotte to give them to the messenger. Realizing Werther’s intention, Charlotte rushes after him.

    Orchestral interlude: Christmas Eve

  • Act IV

    Werther’s study later the same evening Werther has shot himself. Charlotte arrives to find him dying, and confesses her love for him. Before he dies, he tells her where he wishes to be buried.


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