Jules Massenet


Jules Massenet

Lyric drama in 4 acts and 5 scenes based on a libretto by Édouard Blau, Paul Milliet and Georges Hartmann, after Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Premiered in February 1892 in Vienna translated in german, then in french in Geneva and in Paris, at the Opéra-Comique, in January 1893.

New production of the Stadttheater Klagenfurt.

Run time 2h45

Stadttheater Klagenfurt 11/02-12/21/2017


Conductor : Lorenzo Viotti (11/02-22)
Giedre Slekyte (11/24-12/21)
Director : Vincent Huguet
Set designer : Aurélie Maestre
Costume designer : Clémence Pernoud
Choreographer : Lukas Zuschlag
Assistant conductor : Mitsugu Hoshino
Carinthian academy : Apostolos Kallos
Musical preparation : Wolfgang Fritzsche et Matteo Pirola
Dramaturgy : Markus Händel
Assistant director : Elisabeth Wulz
Assistant set designer : Thomas Mörschbacher
Assistant costume designer : Deliana Kremser


Werther : Attilio Glaser
Charlotte : Anaïk Morel
Albert : John Brancy
Sophie : Keri Fuge
Le Bailli : Karl Huml
Schmidt : Joshua Owen Mills
Johann : Jisang Ryu
Käthchen : Lisa-MariaLebitschnig
Brühlmann : Johannes Puchreiter
Fritz/Max/Hans/Karl/Gretel/Klara : Erik Bartos, Timur Heis, Moritz Kallos, Elias Lauchart, Charlène Boisseau, Marie Gruber, Sophia Hassler, Anna Lena Vogl

Singakademie Carinthia
Kärntner Sinfonieorchester

© Photos : karlheinzfessl.com

Note on the staging
Vincent Huguet

 “O Breath of Childhood”


“Van Gogh was right, we could live for infinity, never satisfied with anything less, there is enough infinity on earth and in the atmosphere to satisfy a thousand geniuses, and if Van Gogh was not able to sufficiently fulfill his desire to let it radiate through his entire life, it is society that prevented him from doing so.”

 Antonin Artaud, Van Gogh Suicided by Society, Paris 1947


Faced with the mystery inherent within a suicide, Antonin Artaud, while visiting an exhibition in Paris in 1947 dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh, forged the following conviction: the painter was the martyr of a society that did not wish to understand him. He did not die of madness or weakness, but of the refusal of his contemporaries to accept him: “suicided by society”.


Perhaps Van Gogh occupies the place in our imagination today that Werther occupied at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century for the many generations that made of him a veritable romantic myth. The Dutch painter and the young man imagined by Goethe from his own experience and that of his friends both populated a world where people always die too young, leaving the living with a series of answerless questions, regrets and the lingering shadow of the past. It is from this shadow that Massenet and his librettists have drawn their inspiration when they take possession of Goethe’s oeuvre in the 1880s. Werther tends to reveal the path that leads to the fatal act and its various steps, and perhaps the opera demonstrates this path even more clearly than the epistolary novel by contracting time and making the seasons succeed one another from frolicking summer to glacial winter in the ineluctable unraveling of the tragedy. Suicide is not a desperate act here, nor an urge that takes one by surprise, nor a cry for help; it is a decision, one that seems closer to Wagner’s Liebestod than to the hara-kiri of Ci-Cio-San, and it is perhaps even a decision taken by two:

And I believe that there is always someone else at the exact moment of death in order to strip us from our own life,” wrote Antonin Artaud. This “someone else” is Charlotte, the “Lotte” by Goethe who in the Massenet opera takes on a greater importance, becoming at least half of the myth: without Charlotte, there is no Werther. They love each other, yes, but somberly. They recognized one another, and neither the reason encouraged by the magnanimous spouse Albert, nor the blossoming gaiety sung by the young Sophie, nor the hedonism of the Bailli and his two compatriots will hinder the two from the increasingly dangerous, mutual addiction that swells and that therefore cannot purely take the form of passion. Their connection is of another nature, closer to the myth from Banquet by Plato, because here their souls are unified: two bodies, but one spirit. It is an orphan spirit that Werther and Charlotte have in common, the loss, the absence that plays out within their relationship, this shared melancholy, the verses of Ossian they read together as if quietly entering the garden of desolation. And above all, childhood which is everywhere within Werther, even more so with Massenet than with Goethe, the childhood which surges from the beginning of the work, with its Christmas songs sung in mid-July, as if childhood rendered everything permissible and possible, as if it could make the snow fall in summer. Childhood is the leitmotiv of this work, in the words as much as in the music, and the opera presents all its variations: the jubilation and diversions of Charlotte’s siblings, their insolence, the sadness of the orphans, the innocence but also the lucidity, and then, for Werther, the absolute refusal to hear “no,” the dream of being a child again, to reenter a world that seemed simpler, or at least more habitable for him. For he shares with Georg Büchner’s Lenz (the novella is published in 1839, two years after the death of its author at the age of 23) this lack of tranquility, this incapacity to find calm and comfort, even with Charlotte. For her, childhood is a world which was brutally wrenched from her, when the death of her mother forced her to take on this role, but Werther is not another child to look after: he takes a lot of space, but is the man she needs to become a woman. The paradox of Charlotte is that she is a mother without children, a mother-sister, a mother idealized by Werther but who with him will behave like a Médée. It is in this that they recognize one another, that they choose each other, in search of an intensity they won’t be able to live without.


This intensity, this way of existing in the world, this loss, everything resides in this eulogy to nature with which Werther is often associated. Yet there is also a disparity to highlight between Goethe and Massenet: this relationship with nature has significantly evolved in the past century: the sensibility at the turn of the Enlightenment, that of Goethe from the movement Storm and Passion, has been changed by the succession of wars and political and industrial revolutions that profoundly transformed Europe over the course of the 19th century. Werther was created in 1892, the moment when Claude Monet began painting his series, that of the Rouen Cathedral which he captured in miniscule variations according to the hour of the day and the atmospheric changes, and that of Nymphéas, for which he purchased and arranged the pond in Giverny in 1893. Nature is in the process of developing, but so are the perceptions that man has of it, of young artists that want to invent a new language, a new way of seeing. Van Gogh died in July 1890. And it is another artist, another that died far too young at the age of 29, who inspired Clémence Pernoud’s costumes for this Wetzlar society: Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), one of the precursors of Impressionism. It is in this changing world that we have imagined Werther and Charlotte from an artistic angle, their successes and failures, their insights and deceptions, on one side with a Bailli solar and Apollonian and on the other a somber and tormented Werther. Around them, nature is everywhere and nowhere, with the all-consuming presence of three trees that we see evolve between the seasons and which are for Aurélie Maestre who created the décor, and for myself, an homage to Sverre Fehn (1924-2009), the marvelous Norwegian architect who in 1962 also placed three trees at the heart of the “pavilion of Scandinavian countries” which was constructed in the Giardini of the Venice Biennale. For Werther tells the story of the perpetual search for beauty, which even a gunshot in the night will never obliterate.