WEBER Der Freiscütz
Although this is a far from ‘historical’-sounding performance, Christian Thielemann’s gives full due to Weber’s concertante-like wind-writing and to the dissonances of Samiel’s black magic. Also, while assigning no less weight to the musical ‘good’ side of the story (the Hermit’s Act 3 intervention and the finale’s celebration to the big tune first heard in the Overture), the conductor never overpowers Weber’s writings. This is supple, carefully sifted music-making, beautifully paced.
Onstage is a unit set, replete with over-convenient staircases. Everywhere is dirt and destruction, so perhaps it’s intended (as seen in the men’s dull donkey jackets and the women’s folkish dirndls) to evoke post-1945 Dresden. A first-floor Cuno’s lodge splits bizarrely at Max’s exit from the ‘Wie? Was? Entsetzen!’ Trio.
The stage production follows the libretto apart from one messily realised idea. While Samiel is represented only by an amplified voice in the Wolf’s Glen, other times that he is invoked by Caspar are illustrated by an early appearance of the Hermit or a tiresome inn waitress with a limp (at Caspar’s death she is cast out like an evil witch). The show’s other attempts at Grand Guignol can manage only a comically large and heavy eagle crashing down after the first ‘free’ shot and, for atmosphere in the Wolf’s Glen, hanging corpses (again suggesting the last war?) and lighting flashes. The start of Act 3 is rearranged – all the Agathe at home scenes first then all the trial shot business with Ottokar and the Hermit.
The vocal casting is as precise and well calculated as the overall musical approach but the production seems too nervous of the work itself to give the singers anything dynamic to do. Both Michael König (also the Max of 2013’s big screen version of the opera, Hunter’s Bride – ArtHaus, 11/13) and the American soprano Sara Jakubiak (Agathe) are convincing presences and have voices ideally placed between the lyrical and the more heroic. Georg Zeppenfeld enjoys himself as rough melodramatic baddie rather than his habitual upright noble. Christina Landshamer encompasses Aennchen with warm sympathy and good top notes, although her jokes lie essentially unstaged. Adrian Eröd has a camp time as a bored Ottokar who cynically accepts the Hermit’s rulings while arranging for a child marksman at the end to suggest the trial shot tradition may not be over.
The only Freischütz on the small screen that is unmissable remains the anarchic send-up by Achim Freyer (NVC Arts/Warner). The musical side of the present release demands to be heard, however.