Opera in one act.
Libretto probably reduced by Giulio Domenico Camagna from the five-act play by Antonio Simone Sografi (1794) based (very loosely indeed) on the novel Die Leiden de jungen Werthers by Wolfgang von Goethe (1774).
Possibly first performed at the Teatro San Moisè in Venice in the autumn of 1802, but perhaps somewhere else, or maybe not at all.
This opera is one of the greatest of all operatic mysteries. It is based on the same story which led to Massenet’s opera Werther, but it reduces the plot to an almost unrecognisable level. To understand just how bizarre it is, you are recommended to read first the OperaStory articles on Massenet’s opera and on Goethe’s real life experiences which lie behind the story.
In a village somewhere in Germany, Verter and his servant Ambrogio have been staying for some time in the house of Verter’s friends Alberto and Carlotta. Verter complains about the situation he is in – he is in love but can do nothing about it. Giorgio, the tutor to Alberto and Carlotta’s children, complains about having other people in the house, but Verter, having decided to leave in order to avoid the constant proximity to Carlotta, tells him that he is off to visit his sick mother and does not know when he will return – he asks Giorgio to tell Carlotta that she will always be in his thoughts.
Giorgio now reveals his true colours: with Verter gone, he can pursue his own designs on Carlotta. Paolina, Carlotta’s maid, comes in and tells Giorgio that her mistress is out of sorts. Giorgio comments that he has noticed her behaving differently since her husband has been away and Paolina tells him that Carlotta talks very warmly of him so perhaps he would like to console her in her sorrow. This is just what Giorgio wants to hear.
Carlotta hopes that her husband is not too far away. Giorgio sidles up to her and tells her that he is sad. Carlotta encourages him to tell her the cause of his sadness and Giorgio greasily tells her that he has loved her since he first saw her. Carlotta is horrified and orders him to leave the house. Giorgio prevaricates, saying that he must wait until the master returns. Carlotta, in desperation, calls out for Verter to help her but Giorgio tells her that Verter has left and from her response, Giorgio works out that she wanted to send him away in order to be alone with Verter.
Scenes 4 and 5
Giorgio realises that he has screwed up his attempt at seducing Carlotta. Verter’s servant Ambrogio arrives complaining that Verter just can’t make up his mind – one minute he is leaving and the next he is staying. Giorgio quizzes him and Ambrogio explains that it is Carlotta who has persuaded Verter to stay.
Giorgio realises that he now has the means of his revenge as soon as Alberto returns. He hides, and overhears Verter and Carlotta sadly declaring their impossible love for one another. At the height of their innocent duet, Alberto suddenly returns. Giorgio gleefully observes that ‘the mice are caught in the trap!’
Paolina, who had overheard Giorgio’s own attempt on Carlotta, turns on Giorgio with fury.
Ambrogio too turns on Giorgio and accuses him of making trouble, but Giorgio tells Alberto that if he had not been there to prevent it, Verter and Carlotta would have run off together at dawn. Ambrogio goes to report this lie to Verter while Alberto, distraught, entrusts Giorgio with the task of making sure that Carlotta is removed from the house.
Giorgio gloats on the situation – this time he can force himself on Carlotta and she will not be able to refuse him. He orders a servant to bring Carlotta and Alberto’s children to Alberto.
Ambrogio reports to Verter what has happened. They both resolve to capture Giorgio and Verter produces his pistols.
A while later, Giorgio is hiding from his pursuers, grateful to have avoided being shot already. Carlotta arrives and he once again tells her that if she gives in to his demands, he will help her. She turns him down, and he tells her that Alberto has thrown her out and that she will not see her children again. In a fury, she turns on him and launches into an aria explaining that she is innocent of betrayal and has been betrayed by a liar and a deceiver.
Alberto orders Giorgio to take Carlotta back to her father’s house.
Alberto demands that Ambrogio tell him where Verter is: Ambrogio tries to explain that Verter had intended to leave the house but that Carlotta had asked him to stay. Alberto begins to realise that she had not planned to run away.
Alberto is confused, he does not know what to believe.
Alberto confronts Verter. Verter tries to assert his innocence of betrayal and offers himself to Alberto’s fury.
Verter rails against Giorgio’s deceit and Alberto’s refusal to see the truth. He muses on his own situation – repressing a love that would be wrong – while Ambrogio sympathises, observing that he always knew it would end badly.
Ambrogio learns from Paolina that Carlotta is to be taken back to her father’s house, Ambrogio vows to prevent this and Paolina sets off to tell Alberto everything she knows. Giorgio tries to force Carlotta to leave with him, but Verter and Ambrogio confront him. An argument ensues and when Alberto arrives and demands to know why Verter is still around, Verter tells him that he wants to defend the honesty of an innocent wife. Giorgio persists in trying to drag Carlotta away but Alberto realises that it is Giorgio who is the villain. Verter insists that Giorgio must confess everything. Bizarrely, Ambrogio suddenly asks what Verter wants for dinner, and Verter replies that he is not hungry but would like some wine. He tells Giorgio that unless he writes a full confession, he will kill him, and Giorgio asks for a glass of the wine to fortify his spirits. Verter gives him a glass and then tells Giorgio that the wine contains a deadly poison. Giorgio screams and, believing that he is about to die, confesses that Carlotta is innocent and that it was he who tried to seduce her and that he had encouraged Verter to leave in order to have Carlotta to himself. All is revealed – and Ambrogio now explains that the wine was not poisoned after all. Giorgio, gibbering with fear and relief, agrees to leave immediately; Alberto apologises to Verter and Verter too asks for everyone’s forgiveness, saying that he too will leave. Everyone sings of the triumph of love, truth and honesty.
Despite the astounding banality and the deeply flawed logic of the story, Mayr/Pucitta’s Verter is well worth listening to. There is only one CD, and it is worth tracking down, for its music as well as for its weird provenance and curiosity value.
Other OperaStory articles related to the Verter story are on
- Goethe and his contribution to opera
- Goethe’s real-life involvement in a Werther-like love triangle
- Mayr’s life and operas
- Massenet’s involvement with the Werther story and the circumstances in which he wrote it
- Other operas which are also based on the Werther story
- The Werther legacy
© Roger Witts 2008