Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Hunter's Bride (Der Freischütz) Op. 77 (1817-21)
A Film Opera by Jens Neubert
Prince Ottokar - Franz Grundheber
Kuno - Benno Schollum
Agathe - Juliane Banse
Ännchen - Regula Mühlemann
Kaspar - Michael Volle
Max - Michael König
Hermit - René Pape
Kilian - Olaf Bär
Rundfunkchor Berlin/Simon Halsey
London Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Harding
rec. video: Teldex Studio, Berlin; sound: Abbey Road Studios, London, 2010
Region: 0; 16:9 ratio; PCM Stereo, DD5.1
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101692 DVD [137:00 + 10:00 extras]
This production of Weber's Der Freischütz sports an excellent cast and is well conceived. Its subject-matter works extremely well as a film opera. From the opening of Weber's charming overture we are assured that this is a good DVD to watch. The scenes are exceptionally well choreographed to the music. One gets the feeling that this Arthaus production is in good hands courtesy of its director, Jens Neubert, who paces the action well and holds the viewer's attention.
In this version there are changes to Friedrich Kind's original book. These tend to complicate the plot if not already known to the viewer. The storyline is moved forward by about 160 years. We find that Kaspar and Max are portrayed as military men from the recent Napoleonic Wars in place of the originally-intended forest hunters. Consequently, in this version, both Kaspar and Max hope to gain Agathe's love. It is a mistake to assume that a viewer knows the plot even when an opera is famous. The booklet omits a synopsis and concerns itself more with the opera's background history and with the making of the production. A synopsis is provided as a chapter on the DVD for reading on-screen, not really an ideal place for it.
The cast is excellent, providing believable characters with convincing acting; sometimes neglected in opera stagings. The singing throughout is of a very high standard under Daniel Harding's direction and the orchestra is nicely balanced. In this production we find that the men's chorus of villagers is augmented by soldiers who seem to serve little purpose other than giving a reason for having a substantial chorus of tenors and basses.
I expected a more atmospheric backdrop for Kaspar when he tells Max about the magic bullets. Agathe, a radiant maiden, is delicately charming in the Act II opening in her apartment. She sings Und ob die Wolke with warm rounded vowels and flowing grace. As daughter to the Head Huntsman she is here transferred from her usual rural setting to an upper class town-house complete with servant and caged doves. Does this match one's mental image of a likely partner for Max? From the moment we first encounter Max (Michael König), a velvety baritone with excellent timbre, I was convinced that he should be played as a younger man contemporary with Agathe who is probably in her early twenties. His unkempt straggly hair and rough middle-aged appearance gave him the qualities of a vagabond which is unlikely to endear Agathe or the viewer. Kaspar sings with gusto and he convincingly holds the Wolf's Glen scene together. To add interest the figure of Napoleon is introduced to take dinner at a chateau. The action is accompanied by the rousing chorus, Was gleicht wohl auf Erden. This is magnificently sung by the Berlin Rundfunkchor.
Technically, the filming is brilliantly conceived with interesting camera angles and neatly framed shots. This does the Director great credit. The Wolf's Glen is more a large quarry pit into which slaughtered soldiers from the campaign have been dumped. The countryside around Dresden is used for the rustic exterior scenes. In this version, Kaspar decapitates one of the soldiers and uses the severed head for the incantation scene where the devil is summoned to provide the magic bullets that always find their mark. The glowing pentacle and other visual effects give a lift to the scene. Perhaps the Glen could have been more spookily lit perhaps with gnarled bushes and sinewy plant roots clinging to the bare rock. On the other hand, this absence is well-compensated for by the strong characterisations of Kaspar and Max.
The soundtrack recorded in EMI's London's Abbey Road studios provides good depth to the orchestra as well as clear singing. At times, however, the aural perspective of the chorus is wrong: one quickly notices that their singing is too bass-heavy for the soundtrack to be convincingly matched to an exterior scene of farmyard or village.
The informative 40 page booklet with detailed texts by the Director and by Alan Seaton is in English and French.
Raymond J Walker
This production sports an excellent cast and is well conceived.