Lisette Oropesa (Sophie), Sophie Koch (Charlotte), Jonas Kaufmann (Werther), David Bižić (Albert), Jonathan Summers (Le Bailli)
Act I The Home of the Bailiff
Wetzlar, Germany, the 1890s. On a summer evening, the widowed Bailiff is practicing a Christmas carol with his young children. Since the death of his wife, his eldest daughter, Charlotte, has been looking after the family. Two of his friends stop by, discussing the young poet Werther, who is to escort Charlotte to a ball that evening, and asking about Charlotte’s absent fiancé, Albert. After they have gone into the house, Werther appears, reflecting on the beauty of nature. Charlotte returns, dressed for the ball, and Werther watches as she gives the children their supper and then leaves them in the care of Sophie, her 15-year-old sister. Deeply touched by the idyllic scene, Werther departs with Charlotte. The Bailliff sets off to join his friends at the inn and Sophie remains alone as night falls. She is surprised by the arrival of Albert, who has returned early from a long journey. They talk happily of his impending marriage to Charlotte and go off into the house. In the moonlight, Charlotte and Werther return from the ball. He praises her beauty and devotion to her family; she recalls the memory of her mother. Feeling that his affections are being returned and inspired by the romantic mood, Werther passionately declares his love. At that moment, the Bailiff calls out from the house that Albert is back. The spell is broken. Charlotte admits that he is the man she promised her dying mother to marry. Werther is devastated.
Act II The Linden Trees
It is September and Charlotte and Albert have been married for three months. Werther has maintained a friendship with them but is tormented by the idea that Charlotte belongs to another. On a Sunday of celebration at the village church, he meets Albert, who explains that he understands the cause of Werther’s distress, having met his wife when she was still free. Werther assures him that he only feels friendship for them both. Sophie enters and happily invites Werther for a dance but he evades her. When Charlotte appears he cannot prevent himself from speaking of his love and recalls their first meeting. Charlotte reminds him of her duties as a wife. For both of their sakes, she says, he must leave town and not return until Christmas. Alone, Werther gives in to his despair, musing on the idea of suicide. Sophie returns to invite him to the festivities but he brusquely replies that he is departing forever and rushes off, leaving her in tears. When Sophie passes on the news, Albert realizes that Werther is still in love with Charlotte.
Act III Charlotte and Werther
At home on Christmas Eve, Charlotte re-reads Werther’s letters, admitting to herself that she still loves him as much as he loves her. Sophie arrives and tries to cheer her up, but Charlotte gives in to her despair and conflicting emotions. Suddenly Werther appears, haggard and desolate. Together they evoke tender memories of playing the piano and reading the works of Ossian, leading Werther to reflect on the tragedy of love. For a brief moment, Charlotte loses her composure and falls into Werther’s arms. Then she runs from the room, telling him they will never meet again. Left without hope, Werther leaves. Albert returns, puzzled at his wife’s agitation. A servant hands him a note from Werther: he is going on a long journey and asks to borrow Albert’s pistols. Albert coldly orders his wife to hand them over. As soon as he has gone, Charlotte—realizing the meaning of Werther’s words—rushes off to save him.
Act IV Christmas Eve – The Death of Werther
Charlotte finds Werther mortally wounded in his study. He asks her not to call for help, happy to finally be united with her. She admits that she has loved him since they first met. Werther dies in her arms as the children’s Christmas carol is heard from outside.