This film was made
for German television in 1968, at a time when film was just beginning
to expand the way in which music is experienced. This was filmed
like a movie is filmed, because that gave the best, most dramatic
results given the constraints of the time. As film, it has all
the virtues of a well made movie. It’s vivid, direct, every angle
and frame created to enhance the opera. The way the cameras are
used was state of the art, for they veer in and out for close-ups
and move across the set, giving an almost tangible sense of depth.
This is no point-and-shoot, flat-stage filming, and all the better
for being presented in art movie form. Technology makes possible
things that would have been beyond the wildest dreams of theatre
directors in Weber’s time. Euryanthe, for example, wasn’t performed
because its demands were just too great.
acting was once the norm when audiences were sitting in unamplified
theatres, often too far from the stage to see clearly. Photographs
of early performers show how stylised they could be before close-ups
taught people to expect more naturalistic performance. There
are a few small vestiges of this tradition in this film – Agathe’s
theatrical makeup being a case in point. But this is very much
a “new” kind of production because it focuses on the opera as
drama, and allows much more subtle nuance to come across. For
example, the camera dwells on Max’s face as he silently agonises
over his predicament. It highlights details like the entry of
Samiel, resplendent in red velvet, his face lit with a sinister
glow. Here is a wonderful, multi-dimensional realization of
the Wolf’s Glen, whose portrayal is crucial to the whole plot.
opera begins with that famous long overture. Instead of shooting
the film against an unmoving curtain, the producers of this
film seized on the idea of showing a 19th century
toy theatre backdrop. It’s a great idea because it reminds us
that this opera is very much of its time and place. The hokey
plot was never meant to be realistic or logical. Audiences in
Weber’s time were quite prepared to suspend logical judgement,
and get into the “spirit” of theatre. Nowadays, because we’re
used to vérité in film, we’ve lost that magic in many ways.
it is the filming that makes this production worth watching.
Performances are good, with Edith Mathis totally stealing the
show. She’s an incredibly vivacious and lively Ännchen. Her
voice is so pure and fresh, yet she manages nuances that indicate
more depth of character – she is after all the “sensible” one
in contrast to the rather patchily constructed Agathe. Mathis
is superlatively photogenic and animated – the camera “makes
love to her” as fashion photographers say. She totally obliterates
Arlene Saunders who comes over, alas as more pinched and stale
than she would have in traditional stagecraft And that singing!
It is no surprise that she was to become an astoundingly good
Agathe in her own time.
excellent is Gottlob Frick as Kaspar.
His voice is so expressive that he can
characterize the part neurotic tension.
It is after all, more than a comic part
because he’s cursed and under demonic
pressure. This is important, because
in this opera, and in the Romantic mindset,
dark forces were dangerous. Like the
deep forests in Grimm, the Wolf’s Glen
is a symbol of the subconscious and
of the irrational. It’s an idea central
to the Romantic psyche. At any moment,
dark forces can reach out and destroy,
as Agathe finds out all too clearly.
Frick’s Kaspar is so well defined that
he’s engaging and sympathetic, which
adds to the impact of the plot. Less
so is the ostensible hero, Max. Ernst
Kozub doesn’t have the intensity of,
say, Peter Schreier. Luckily for him,
the camera compensates by focusing on
his facial expressions and body language,
so even if he’s not singing, he’s communicating.
More interesting is Franz Grundheber
as Kilian still quite young and showing
the weakest part of this production is the orchestra, conducted
by Leopold Ludwig. It’s certainly not actually bad but lacks
the clean lyricism that’s in the music, and in particular the
glorious overture. The choruses are extremely well paced – the
high male voices being specially well-balanced and clear.
in all, this isn’t a first choice Freischütz. However,
if you’re interested in opera production, it gives valuable
insight into how opera can be enhanced as art movie. And, Edith
Mathis! Her singing alone should justify the price of this DVD.