In Massenet's masterpiece, based on Goethe's Sorrows of the Young Werther, tears never cease to flow from the very moment the moonlit set is revealed and closed. "My whole being cries at it" says Werther. We are a long way from opera's usual tears, be they furtive or violent. These tears flow slowly and inexorably, one by one. Patient tears as Charlotte puts it.
In the space of four acts, they will have done their work. Charlotte cannot hold the tears back as she rereads Werther's letters. They will flow in front of Sophie, the angel of consolation. They will flow when Werther reads Ossian. And finally they will flow at the sight of Werther's blood-soaked body. Yet Werther refuses these last tears: for now he is happy and free. Werther is a long requiem, lacrimosa dies illa, a tearful day if ever there was. A requiem for a young poet ending in paradisum. For Werther, of course, could only be a poet: that is to say, above the world, yet nevertheless enslaved to it. Death hovers above him, and Massenet marked his song with the sign, evoked by Rilke in his Sonnets to Orpheus, of those who are to die young.
© Opéra national de Paris
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