WEBER Der Freischütz
This whole idea falls on the fundamental misapprehension that a stage work is some kind of imperfect shorthand form just waiting to be ‘bigged up’. It isn’t. Once upon a time, when film and soundtrack recording were younger media, cultured men and women dreamed of popularising opera by putting The Ring on the big cinema screen set in the Grand Canyon with John Wayne as Wotan (an actual idea). Mercifully, commercial cinema did not agree.
Now, with the synching of sound and picture at a sophisticated level (2010s), producer/director Jens Neubert comes up with a ‘new’ concept – ‘film opera’. He makes an on-location movie of Der Freischütz, unencumbered with the baggage of interpretative ideas – unless you count updating the action to Weber’s own Napoleonic War lifetime – with actual singers acting to their own pre-recorded soundtrack and ‘live’ mics picking up cows lowing, birds screeching, guns banging, etc. As they used to be in stage productions of the opera, the difficult bits are mostly avoided – Max shooting the eagle, Samiel himself, the casting of the bullets (OK, a little bit of Doctor Who-style green screen cabalistic symbolism), Max shooting the dove/Agathe/Caspar. As a dramatic experience, despite memorable acting from Michael Volle’s Caspar, it has as much bite as Jane Austen translated to Saxon farmyard settings.
The silver lining to this cloud is the soundtrack. Thrillingly conducted, played and recorded, it is also well sung by everyone, not least Juliane Banse’s Agathe, René Pape’s Hermit, Volle’s Caspar and Michael König’s Max. And, yes, they can all act – which would surprise no regular opera-goer of today but seems to have been regarded as the Second Coming by the film company. So, to misquote an old TV comedy, ‘nice record, shame about the video’.