Werther Synopsis

ACT I
The magistrate's house, July

The magistrate is supervising his children's practice of Christmas carols, exhorting them to better efforts by reminding them that their sister Charlotte can hear them. Johann and Schmidt, two of his cronies, call in on their way to the inn. He decides not to join them till Charlotte is ready for the ball that night. Everyone is looking forward to the ball; even Werther, they remark, is less melancholy. The magistrate approves of the young man, though his friends find him too serious; but all agree that Albert, who has been away, will be the right husband for Charlotte.
Johann and Schmidt go to the inn and Werther approaches the house, musing on the beauties of nature and listening with pleasure to the children's voices as the magistrate continues with the rehearsal. Charlotte is ready for the ball, but the friends who are to call for her have not arrived, so she gives the children their supper. Werther is struck by the pleasant domestic scene. The magistrate introduces him to Charlotte and explains that she has taken the place of her dead mother in looking after the children. She welcomes Werther warmly.
Charlotte leaves for the ball and the magistrate, urged by Sophie, the next oldest, goes to the inn. When Albert arrives unexpectedly, he is pleased when Sophie assures him that he has not been forgotten and that they are busy with preparations for the wedding.
Werther brings Charlotte home after the ball and is unable to restrain his confession of love. Charlotte is about to leave him, without replying, when her father calls out the news of Albert's return. Charlotte explains to Werther that she promised her mother that she would marry Albert and Werther is in despair.

ACT II
The village square, September

It is Sunday. Johann and Schmidt go into the inn and Charlotte and Albert, who have been married for three months, prepare to go into church. Werther watches them, in agony at having lost Charlotte. Albert goes to him and sympathises with his grief and Werther assures him that he is calm after the storm and accepts Albert's friendship.
Sophie enters full of joy and claims a dance from Werther at a forthcoming party; but when she leaves with Albert, Werther wonders if he can ever be happy again. Despite his words to Albert, he realises that he still loves Charlotte and must go away, but is unable to bring himself to do so. His resolution is further weakened when Charlotte appears. He speaks to her again of his love and she reminds him firmly that she is married to a man who loves her. She tells him he must go, but relents at his despair and agrees that he may come back at Christmas. Left alone, he thinks of suicide and when Sophie comes to call him he rushes away, telling her he will not come back. Hearing this, Albert realises that Werther still loves Charlotte.

ACT III
Albert's house, Christmas Eve

Charlotte is reading Werther's letters, unable to destroy them, unable to forget him. Sophie tries to cheer her but realises that her sorrow has something to do with Werther. At the mention of his name, Charlotte is unable to restrain her tears. Sophie begs her to come to her old home and listen to the children's carols. She leaves when Charlotte agrees and Charlotte prays for the strength to resist temptation.
Werther appears in the doorway pale and almost fainting. He has tried to stay away forever, but as the appointed day drew near was unable to keep himself from returning. Trying to keep calm Charlotte asks him to read his translations of the poems of Ossian to her and he does so. It is a lament, and Charlotte is deeply moved.
Werther is convinced that she loves him and although she tries to restrain him, he seizes her in his arms and kisses her. She half yields, but recovers and tells him that he must never see her again and runs from the room. Werther decides that the time has come for him to die.
Albert comes home and is puzzled by Charlotte's obvious emotion. A note is brought from Werther, telling Albert that he is going on a journey and asking to borrow Albert's pistols. Charlotte is terrified, but at Albert's insistence she hands the pistols to the messenger.

ACT IV
Werther's study, shortly afterwards

Charlotte finds Werther lying on the floor mortally wounded. She confesses that she has always loved him, but married Albert out of duty.
The children's voices can be heard singing carols as Werther tells Charlotte where he wants to be buried and dies in her arms.