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Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Der Freischütz (The Freeshooter) - romantic opera in three acts (1820)
Ottokar – Adrian Eröd
Kuno – Albert Dohmen
Agathe – Sara Jakubiak
Ännchen – Christina Landshamer
Kasper – Georg Zeppenfeld
Max – Michael König
The Hermit – Andreas Bauer
Kilian – Sebastian Wartig
Sächsischer Staatsopernchor/Jörn Hinnerk Andresen
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
rec. live, 29–3 May 2015, Semperoper, Dresden, Germany
Stage Director – Axel Köhler
Set Design – Arne Walther
Costume Design – Katherina Weissenborn
Lighting Design – Fabio Antoci
Video Designers – Arne Walther, Knut Geng
Dramatic Advisor – Werner Hintze
Choreography – Katrin Wolfram
Fight Director – Klaus Figge
Video Direction – Tiziano Mancini
Sung in German with spoken recitatives
Filmed in High Definition mastered from HD Source
Picture Format: NTSC 16.9
Sound Formats: a) PCM Stereo 48kHz/16bit; b) DTS 5.0ch 48kHz
Subtitles: German (sung texts only), English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
Picture Format: 1080i, 16.9
Sound Formats: a) LPCM Stereo 2.0, 48kHz/24bit; b) DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0ch, 48kHz
C MAJOR 733108 DVD/Blu-Ray 733204 [149.00]

Earlier this year (2015) I attended the Semperoper, Dresden for Axel Köhler’s captivating staging of Weber’s Der Freischütz. That evening will live long in the memory. In response to wide acclaim C Major has released this live DVD/Blu-ray filmed just a few weeks before I attended my performance. I have watched both the DVD and Blu-ray versions of this production of Der Freischütz.

Weber’s pioneering Romantic opera, based on a German folk legend. The libretto is by Johann Friedrich Kind with in thiscase the dialogue adapted by Werner Hintze. Der Freischütz has been an enduring presence in the repertory of the Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden and enjoys a specially affinity in the hearts of the Dresden audience. In 1816 Weber was appointed by the King of Saxony as kapellmeister to the Court Opera Dresden. During his time there he worked on Der Freischütz although it was first performed at the Schauspielhaus, Berlin in 1821. In 1951, to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Weber’s death, Der Freischütz received its 1000th Dresden performance - a remarkable achievement that demonstrates its amazing popularity. This was the last opera to be seen before the Semperoper was destroyed by Allied fire-bombing during WW2 in 1945 and also the first to be staged when the rebuilt Semperoper was opened in 1945. This new production by Axel Köhler commemorates those 70th and 30th anniversaries.

Performances of Der Freischutz have been released on DVD previously but none as celebrated as this. To my knowledge this is the first Freischütz available on Blu-ray as well as DVD. It is worth pointing out there is a film based on Weber’s Der Freischütz titled the Hunter’s Bride (2010) directed by Jens Neubert and conducted by Daniel Harding on DVD/Blu-ray.

Originally set in an eighteenth century Bohemian forest at the time of the Thirty Years’ War Axel Köhler’s focused production has according to Tobias Niederschlag in the accompanying notes “relocated the action and set it in an indeterminate period in the aftermath of war.” Köhler has successfully moved the action forward to what could almost be present day but with the war-damaged buildings and choice of clothing suggesting 1960s Bavaria. Arne Walther’s stunning and evocative set is wonderfully devised and centred on a near derelict palace bearing the scars of shelling. Always a tough challenge for directors Köhler’s team has excelled with the terrifyingly haunted ‘Wolf’s Glen’ scene set deep in the forest with bodies hanging from trees. Köhler provides a spectacular integration of fast-moving back video projections together with alarmingly evocative sounds. The unseen Samiel the devil-like ‘Black Huntsman’ of the dark forest is given an ultra-menacing recorded voice accompanied by lightning bolts and loud crashes of thunder. Worthy of comment are some of the lighter-hearted episodes especially the shooting down of a massive eagle and its delayed fall, the amusing way Kasper shoots the rat and the unintentionally slapstick fight sequence. On the evening that I attended, Michael Eder as Kasper, made such hard work of decapitating the body many of the audience thought it amusing. Here Kasper played by Georg Zeppenfeld makes a very practised attempt with his army knife.

Costume designer Katherina Weissenborn has dressed the villagers in a mix of traditional Bavarian and some contemporary clothing with Kuno’s men adopting a quasi-military theme. Heading the solid cast is the burly and bearded Michael König in the role of Max; successor in waiting to the head forester. Decked out in green combat jacket and trousers with black riding boots and perpetually carrying his rifle König looks rather ill-at-ease with the acting, often looking down at the floor. Nevertheless König sings splendidly throughout with a sweet quality to his high register. He excels in his aria Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen as Max descends into intense melancholy. Resplendent in traditional green dirndl and later her white wedding dress Agathe with her red hair and pony-tail was played by Sara Jakubiak. Delivering Agathe’s aria Wie nahte mir der Schlummer and cavatina Und ob die Wolke sie verhülle with affection Jakubiak’s splendidly fluid soprano voice is consistently creamy in tone and often beautiful. She is able to sustain her high notes and does so with aplomb.

Making a real impact in the role of Kasper is bass Georg Zeppenfeld. Dressed all in black leather bomber jacket, combat pants and boots, Zeppenfeld acts well as the brutish, self-seeking forester. Singing securely the bass has a strong, well nourished voice together with a threatening dark-edged tone. Agathe’s cousin Ännchen with dark hair and pigtails wears a rust coloured dirndl and is played by Christina Landshamer a confident actor who sings with engaging commitment. In her warm-hearted arietta Kommt ein schlanker Bursch and romance Einst träumte meiner Landshamer’s relatively small, bright voice is most expressive and projects well. Baritone Adrian Eröd is accomplished as the intimidating Prince Ottokar dressed in a long grey military greatcoat, tunic and shiny black riding boots. Highly assured Eröd evinces a smooth, dusky tone that he controls with seeming ease.

Sebastian Wartig makes a great deal of the role of Kilian displaying his rich, low baritone with outstanding security. Enjoying his time in the limelight and his humiliation of Max at the shooting competition I can still picture the arrogant young peasant decked out in khaki jacket, brown cord trousers, green shirt and hat adorned with a flower, strutting about and taunting Max. A fine actor, Albert Dohmen as the green flak-jacketed Kuno the head forester conveys an air of authority throughout while projecting a sense of foreboding. Seen only fleetingly in a rather deus ex machina role as the straggly-haired and bearded Hermit, Andreas Bauer makes quite an impression. Deep and sonorous, his voice radiates character as he delivers his sage-like advice.

Steeped in Weber’s enchantingly orchestrated music the Staatskapelle Dresden excel under Thielemann’s confident baton. I like the way he allows space for applause thus helping to engage the audience. Expertly coached by Jörn Hinnerk Andresen the Staatsopernchor is in fine unified voice giving a particularly rousing rendition of the renowned Huntsmens Chorus and a charming Chorus of Bridesmaids. The video direction by Tiziano Mancini is generally commendable, keeping the cameras active.

Filmed in High Definition mastered from a HD source the overall picture is sharp and vibrant. Compared to when I attended the production disappointingly the activities in the open-fronted cellar under Agathe’s bedroom are so poorly lit for the cameras as to be almost imperceptible. On this DVD the sound format employed is a choice of LPCM Stereo 48 kHz/16bit and DTS 5.0ch, 48kHz. On Blu-ray the sound formats are LPCM Stereo 2.0, 48kHz/24bit or DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0ch, 48kHz. Overall there is a satisfying sound quality with good clarity and balance. In the accompanying booklet there is a listing of the cast and production teams, a detailed indexing of the scenes and arias with a helpful essay by Tobias Niederschlag. Curiously there is no synopsis of the opera.

Axel Köhler’s must-see production is a tremendous spectacle both for the sheer quality of the performances and the remarkable sonic and visual pyrotechnics.

Michael Cookson



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