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 'Sorrows of Young Werther'.
Charlotte, the eldest daughter of a baliff, is engaged to Albert. In his absence, she is escorted to the local ball by a young visiting poet, Werther. Albert returns unexpectedly, disappointed at not finding Charlotte, he promises her sister he will return in the morning. At the ball, Werther falls in love with Charlotte, but realises that Albert has returned and urges Charlotte not to break her promise to marry Albert.
Three months later, Charlotte and Albert, now married, walk across the town square on their way to church, followed by Werther who is still distraught. Albert realizes that Werther must be in love with his wife, and Charlotte tells him he must leave town until Christmas. Werther rushes away, contemplating suicide.
Alone at home on Christmas Eve, as Charlotte rereads the dejected love letters written to her by Werther, he appears and reads to her a passage from a poem where the poet foresees his own death. Charlotte begs him to stop and he realises she loves him too. But she runs from his embrace and Werther leaves, resolved to die. Albert enters and a message arrives from Werther asking to borrow Albert's pistol. Her reaction convinces him of her love for Werther. The pistols are dispensed, and when Albert has gone she hurries off, arriving at his quarters to find him dying. She declares her love, and he begs forgiveness and dies.
This is the Schirmer edition of the Libretto in French and English.