• Werther Educator Guide

What to Expect from Werther?

In many operas, the focus of attention is directed on women who love too much, love wantonly or foolishly, love their way straight to a tragic end. Jules Massenet’s Werther is different: it is a study of the seething emotions that can overwhelm a young man. When the poet Werther falls in love with a woman who can never be his, he believes his fate has been sealed. But what ultimately drives the story of this opera is a decision, not fate—the shocking decision of a romantic youth facing the strongest feelings he has ever known.

Massenet based his 1892 work on a best-selling book from a century earlier, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, first published in 1774. The 24-year-old Goethe wrote this semi-autobiographical novel as a series of letters in which his protagonist recounts his love for Charlotte, a young woman who is betrothed to another man. This impossible, ever-intensifying love leads the self-absorbed Werther to suicide. But where Goethe brought his readers into Werther’s feverish mind, Massenet and his librettists, Édouard Blau, Paul Milliet, and Georges Hartmann, open out into the community, offering rich, full characterizations of Charlotte, her husband, Albert, and a society in which the protagonists’ passions collide with convention and honor.

  • Classroom Activity

    A full-length activity, designed to support your ongoing curriculum.

  • Musical Highlights

    Three "Musical Highlights" designed to focus on bits of music from Werther to cultivate familiarity with the work.

  • Performance Activities

    Performance Activities for students to enjoy during the Metropolitan Opera HD transmission.

  • Post-Show Discussion

    A post-transmission activity, integrating the Live in HD experience into students' wider views of the performing arts and humanities.

Werther at the Met

Werther targets feelings your students will find familiar—if not from their own lives, then from stories they have seen in movies and on TV. Emotionally raw and immediately affecting, this work perfectly demonstrates the unique power of opera to reveal characters and their inner lives through the unity of words of music.