Did he do it for love or for money? There is evidence
that Hector Berlioz made this 1841 French version of Carl Marie von
Weber's 1821 Die Freischütz so that he could have the revision
copyrighted under France's fledgling intellectual property laws. This
means Berlioz would be paid and indeed he earned more from this edition
than from his own compositions. His main contribution to the revision
is the writing of recitatives for the opera to replace the out-of-fashion
spoken dialogue as well as some minor musical adjustments to accommodate
the difference in language.
But Berlioz also had a good ear and was one of his
century's most perceptive writers on music. He certainly was aware this
opera was considered by most composers to be one of the great masterpieces
of the lyric stage and that it influenced the entire course of operatic
history. Meyerbeer, later Wagner, and even Debussy were heavily influenced
and acknowledged their debt. This opera is a cornerstone of the early
German Romantic period and is full of original, engaging music but even
today is rarely heard outside German opera houses.
As part of the season-long celebration of the music
of Berlioz, leading up to the bicentennial of his birth in 2003, the
Orchestre de Paris has programmed a wide range of the French master's
works. His recitatives are positive additions to the opera. Composed
with the style and melodies of the opera in mind, they add to the dramatic
effect and the flow of the story. The uncommonly passionate and committed
performance by the orchestra, just back from a successful tour in the
United States, the powerhouse chorus under Arthur Oldham's leadership,
and a collection of gifted singers made this evening one of the highlights
of the Paris season.
The women carried away the honours last night with
sublime performances by Michaela Kaune as Agathe and Annick
Massis as Annette. Kaune's rendition of the famous Act II aria,
"leise, leise" (but this evening "doucement, doucement") was as perfect
a bit of singing as I have heard anywhere. Possessing a clear and supple
voice, she adds the nuance and meaning to her singing that puts her
at the top rank of sopranos today. French soprano Massis goes from triumph
to triumph these days and the duets between the two were a treasure
of the singing art.
The men also provided a strong showing. Leading off
was a splendid and assured Gaspard sung with melting beauty by José
Van Dam. When he is not in the extremes of his range, there is still
no better baritone singing today. French Baritone Marc Barrard
sang a forceful and detailed Kilian/Otokar and Jean-Philippe Courtis
contributed handsomely in the role of Kouno. The role of Max was sung
by German tenor Endrik Wottrich who was flown in with only 48
hours to learn the Berlioz recitatives (replacing Clifton Forbis, who
had the flu). He has recorded this role with Harnoncourt but I found
his voice lacking in warmth and ease.
Otherwise, it was a remarkable tribute to both Weber
and Berlioz by the Music Director of Orchestre de Paris, Christoph
Eschenbach, who has been at the helm since September 2000. His energetic
leadership and musical acuity has this orchestra in top form. They are
justifiably proud that they have been asked to return to Carnegie Hall
in New York for a two-week "residence" in 2003 and 2005. The only orchestras
to be accorded this honour before have been the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics.
Conductor Christoph Eschenbach, tenor Endrick Wottrich,
and sopranos Annick Massis and Michaela Kaune.
Photo credit Thierry Boccon-Gobod