It is July, Le Bailli is sitting in his garden surrounded by six of his children and he is trying to teach them a Christmas carol. He rebukes them for singing poorly and says that if their older sister Charlotte were here they would sing it much better. Hearing Charlotte’s name, the children immediately begin to sing better (“Noel, Noel”). The Bailli’s friends, Schmidt and Johann, come by and remind Le Bailli to join them later for a social evening. Sophie, Charlotte’s 15-year-old sister, comes in and they talk of Werther, a melancholic young man destined for a diplomatic career. They also talk about Albert, who they all think will make a good husband for Charlotte. Everyone goes inside the house.
Werther appears. He reflects on the summer evening atmosphere in this wonderful village ("O Nature, pleine de grâce"). Charlotte, dressed for the ball that is to take place that evening, returns accompanied by her father and younger siblings. Her partner is late, so she prepares a snack for the children, as she has taken care of the children since the death of her mother. Werther is enraptured by this scene of domesticity and goes off with Charlotte to the ball. Night is falling and everyone has left for the ball except Sophie. She, too, is about to go when Albert, Charlotte’s betrothed, arrives after six months away. They talk for a while of the future when he will be Charlotte’s husband. The garden is filled with moonlight as Charlotte and Werther return from the ball. Charlotte begins to head into the house but Werther, in an ecstatic mood, praises her beauty and devotion to her family in the most poetic way. Charlotte recalls the memory of her mother and speaks affectionately of her brothers and sisters. Werther is moved to declare his love for her, whereupon Le Bailli’s voice is heard calling out: “Charlotte, Albert is back!” The magic of their moment is broken and Werther, learning that Albert is the man Charlotte is to marry, cries in anguish as he