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Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Der Freischütz (1821)
Agathe - Caterina Ligendza
Max - Toni Krämer
Ottakar - Wolfgang Schöne
Kuno - Fritz Linke
Kaspar - Wolfgang Probst
Kilian - Helmut Holzapfel
Samiel - Wolfram Raub
Annchen - Raili Viliakainen
Hermit - Roland Bracht
Chorus and Orchestra of the Würtembergische Staatsoper, Stuttgart/Dennis Russell Davies
Achim Freyer (producer and designer)
Recorded 1981, Württembergische Staatsoper (live performance)
NVC ARTS 5050467-3524-2-1 [146.00]


Weber's opera Der Freischütz (whose title is paraphrased as 'The marksman with magic bullets') was first produced in Berlin in 1821. The plot is rich in supernatural melodrama, the sinister and powerful Wolf's Glen Scene in the second act forming the most celebrated part of the work. It is no exaggeration to suggest that no German opera has matched the work's rapid and widespread success, with no fewer than seventeen performances being given within six months of the premiere, always to capacity audiences.

This DVD issue comes from a live recording made in Stuttgart in 1981. It is certainly a colourful affair, and that at least seems true to the opera’s nature. However, the approach is so stylized that the problematic nature of Weber’s supernatural visions becomes more problematic still. Perhaps the issues surrounding Der Freischütz and producer Achim Freyer’s response to the challenges it poses for its interpreters lie at the heart of whether you will enjoy or hate this production and performance. Freyer decides upon a stylized approach, whereas the alternative would be to take the magical, fairy-tale, supernatural world of German Romantic Opera at face value and aim for the kind of stage imageries you might find in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich.

Therefore this production concentrates on the fairy-tale, and a stylized fairy-tale at that. The producer was his own designer too, so that the concept could not be compromised by misunderstandings of vision. Now Weber’s music is every inch as subtle, expressive and committed as you would expect, and it is only with the utmost ‘suspension of disbelief’ that this production can be tolerated. Inevitably it is in the famous Wolf’s Glen Scene, which opened the door to so much of 19th century music drama, that this mismatch is at its most apparent. What should be atmospheric and frightening looks colourful, yes, but fails to register highly as far as tension is concerned. This is the biggest disappointment, but then this is the best scene on the opera.

Tolerate the stylistic characteristics of the production, and there will be rewards to discover. True, the plot is as hard to justify as the opera’s title is to translate, and the narrative dialogue sections gain from clearly articulated and presented subtitles, though they do dominate the screen somewhat. But Freyer plays fast and loose as producers will, with Weber’s stage directions. Since these are so often linked with the inspiration behind the music, the results are seldom compelling. In the Wolf’s Glen the strange creatures certainly do appear, but their strangeness is not as strange as a less concept-ridden style, or at least a more Gothic-Romantic style, might have achieved. The rival Arthaus DVD (100 106) from Hamburg, directed by Peter Konwitschny, is both more daring and more disturbing.

As for the musical side of things, Dennis Russell Davies conducts a well focused team of performers, and there is an excellent control of line and pacing. Perhaps the Wolf’s Glen music could have been more carefully phrased and projected musically, but in the context of the stage presentation would that have mattered much? The sound quality is adequate but not particularly sophisticated and atmospheric, with little depth of perspective.

While the CD case has space for a booklet this only contains a catalogue of other recordings; there is nothing whatever about Weber or Der Freischütz.

Terry Barfoot

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