• Werther Classroom Activity

The activities in this guide address several aspects of Werther:

  • the challenge many young people face in managing strong romantic feelings
  • the rich psychological textures emerging from the interplay of music and text in Massenet’s opera
  • the translation of Goethe’s epistolary novel into a musical portrait of a community
  • contemporary resonances of a classic story ending in suicide through the use of a gun
  • the production as a unified work of art, involving creative decisions by the artists of the Metropolitan Opera

Learning Objectives

A Life in Letters:Unrequited Love in Werther

Goethe presented his life of young Werther as a set of letters, with “editor’s notes” filling in bits about Charlotte and Albert that Werther himself could not have known. In this Classroom Activity, students will try their own hand at epistolary fiction, listening to sections of Werther, then advancing the opera’s narrative by writing letters in the voice of its characters.

Note that Goethe’s novel and Massenet’s opera both end with Werther’s suicide. This activity makes no reference to that climax, in order to keep impassioned discussion of suicide from overwhelming the subtler objective of examining Werther and Charlotte as young people negotiating their relationship. (If you are interested in facilitating a discussion on either suicide or the keeping of guns in one’s home, please refer to the sidebar “Current Controversies.”)

Students will:

  • listen to scenes following the development of Werther and Charlotte’s relationship
  • gather evidence of the characters’ meanings and motivations
  • discuss what characters say, what they mean, and how they respond to one another
  • adopt character personas to write fictional letters
  • write and self-edit to convey shades of attitude and meaning
  • predict Werther’s climax based on their understanding of the dramatic situation established by Massenet and his librettists