Sunday, October 9, 2011


Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 9th of October 2011 at 3.03 - 6.05 pm
WEBER: Der Freischütz, an opera in three acts
Max.............................. Andrew Kennedy
Agathe.......................... Sophie Karthäuser
Kaspar.......................... Gidon Saks
Aennchen...................... Virginie Pochon
Kuno............................ Matthew Brook
Hermit........................... Luc Bertin-Hugault
Kilian............................ Samuel Evans
Ottokar......................... Robert Davies
Monteverdi Chorus, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
John Eliot Gardiner  
(recorded in the Royal Albert Hall, London by the BBC)

This is the first opportunity I have had to comment on this opera (The Free Shooter) which I  saw long ago, and have been admiring ever since, studying the German libretto I bought in my student years. This was the first German romantic opera (and I do not mean simply that it has a love story in it). In high school my German teacher said that this was the opera that inspired Wagner.
   Sadly, Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) died of tuberculosis, and he lost two months of his productive life after mistakenly drinking deadly acid from a wine bottle; his father used it for engraving, and Carl himself learned the art to make the plates for his own music.
   I recall a production at Melbourne University, when my young son Michael was so interested in looking into the orchestra pit that the conductor had to tell him to go back to his seat so that  he could start the second part. One thing that intrigued him was the chess game in the brass section. That reminded me of a book I was reading in those days, namely Nights in the Orchestra, in which Hector Berlioz reported discussions he allegedly had with musicians during performances of operas.
   Berlioz had an interesting connection with this "free-shooting" opera:  it contains spoken dialogue (like Mozart's Seraglio, and Beethoven's Fidelio), and this was not allowed in the Paris Opera House (same problem with Bizet's Carmen), so Berlioz was commissioned to fix it, and to add a ballet (obligatory, as Wagner and Verdi well knew); he orchestrated Weber's piano piece known as Invitation to to the Dance (Dum di dum dum dum) for the occasion.
   For this Proms performance on original instruments, the French version is presented, without staging (the orchestra fills the stage), though there is action, overseen by the head of Sir Henry Wood.
   The three reviews offered above seem to suggest that it is better to just listen. Warning: we will hear some gunshots (from magic bullets).

DER FREISCHÜTZ (The marksman who uses magic demonic bullets)
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
You see, occasionally German can say something in fewer words than English. 

This is a Singspiel (a play with singing and speaking) so expect spoken dialogue.
ACT 1   Bohemia in the 17th century
[1] Viktoria, der Meister soll leben! (Kilian and chorus) Long live the winner!
Max, the marksman and the hero of the drama, has just lost a shooting match to Kilian, a prosperous farmer, who is exulting like a king in his victory. Kuno, the hereditary forester of Prince Ottokar, is concerned about Max’s recent lack of form in marksmanship; he knows Max wants to marry his daughter Agathe, and become his heir. Max needs to win the shooting tournament on the morrow, to earn Agathe as his bride, so he is a worried man.
[2] Oh, diese Sonne! (Max, Kuno, Kaspar) Oh, this sun, it rises fearfully before me.
Max is losing hope; Kuno and the people offer encouragement; but Kuno tells him he should bear his possible loss like a man; Kaspar (first hunter, Max is second hunter) suggests that the forces of darkness need to be invoked,  particularly the devil Samiel,  lurking there.
Max then feels like dancing, and the company engages in a waltz, into the tavern.
[3]  Nein, länger trag’ ich nicht die Qualen. No, no longer can I  bear the torments.
Max is alone with Samiel (whom he does not see, but we do). The pain is unbearable to this happy hunter, who used to roam the forests and meadows with a light heart, shooting freely and accurately, and bringing home a rich bag  for Agathe’s loving approval. He finally exclaims: Lebt kein Gott? (Is there no God? Is God dead?).
[4] Hier im ird’schen Jammertal. Here in this earthly vale of misery, have faith in the god Bacchus and his wine. Long live Agathe, who left me for you! (Kaspar)
Kaspar has  reappeared (quietly invoking Samiel’s aid); he offers a sinister solution to Max’s problem. He gives Max his gun, and with it Max successfully shoots an eagle, because it was a magic bullet (Freikugel, ‘free ball’, a charmed bullet; this explains the word Freischütz, as a shooter who uses demonic ammunition). He persuades Max to meet him at midnight in the Wolf’s Glen (die Wolfsschlucht), to make such bullets.
[5] Schweig. schweig, damit dich niemand warnt! Be silent, so that nobody warns you!
Kaspar’s song of triumph and revenge; spirits of Hell have already caught Max in their net.

ACT 2  Scenes 1 - 3  The forest-ranger’s home
[1] In the house of Kuno, the chief ranger of Prince Ottokar, in Bohemia, we see Kuno’s daughter Agathe (Agatha, Greek, ‘good.’) and  her cousin Ännchen (Annie, Annette). A picture of a Kuno ancestor has fallen off the wall, and Ännchen is playfully putting it back in its place, using strong language as she hammers the nail home; Agathe mistakenly thinks the ancestor is meant, but the Schelm (rogue) is the wretched nail, which let old Kuno fall down (and hit Agathe on the head, we will learn). Agathe is expecting Max, her sharp-shooting lover; she is ill at ease; she has visited a holy hermit, who has given her some consecrated roses, and warned her of impending danger; the portrait accident seems to forebode evil.
[2]  Alone, Agathe sings in the moonlight, watching out for Max; at last she sees him coming, and she welcomes him joyfully.
[3] Ännchen comes out of her bedroom to greet him. Max reports his great shot, a mighty eagle, and when he throwa his newly plumed hat on the table, it breaks the lamp, and the light goes out. Another disaster, and in his mind Max puts the fall of the picture that had injured his beloved together with his shooting of the bird, at seven o’clock. But he has to leave now, and go to the Wolf’s Glen (allegedly to collect a stag he killed earlier). The two women are horrified, and they try to dissuade him, but he departs on his dangerous mission.
Scenes 4 - 6  In the terrible Wolf’s Glen, with  owls and ravens.
[4] Voices of invisible spirits: Will the tender bride be killed? Uhui!
[5] Kaspar invokes the demon Samiel and asks for an extension. He has found a substitute in Max, who wants  magic bullets; six will hit their mark, but the seventh will kill his bride; in his misery he will turn to Samiel, and relieve the pressure on Kaspar.
[6] Max appears but is hesitant about joining Kaspar; the ghost of his mother is urging him to go back; then a vision of Agatha in distress. Kaspar begins making the bullets in a casting ladle; ingredients are lead and also ground glass from smashed church windows, some quicksilver, three previously successful bullets, the right eye of a hoopoe, the left eye of a lynx.  Samiel is entreated to give his assistance in the process. One by one the balls are moulded; as each number is called out (Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier! Fünf! Sechs!) there is an eerie echo, and a disturbance in the environment. At the cry of  seven (Sieben!) Samiel appears as the black hunter (or whatever the director dictates): Hier bin ich! (Here I am). Kaspar has collapsed on the ground, Max makes the sign of the cross and falls down. One o’clock.

Scene 1. In the forest (in this weird Hamburg production the dialogue is off-stage)
Kaspar took three of the magic bullets, Max received four. By the end of the scene there is only one left for Max to use; it is the seventh fatal one, controlled by the devil Samiel. (This scene can be placed after Scene 2.)
Scenes 2 -5 Agathe’s room
[1] Cavatina (beautiful). Agathe is reflecting prayerfully: Even though clouds may veil  the sun, it still shines in the heavens; and God’s eye, ever pure and clear, will watch over her on this her wedding day.
[2] Ännchen comes in, and Agathe tells her about a disturbing dream she had: she was a white dove; Max shot her and she fell; then she was herself again; a  black bird of prey was weltering in its blood.  Ännchen expertly interprets it: her white wedding dress made her become a dove in the dream; the eagle feathers in Max’s hat accounted for the evil bird. Then Ännchen sings a comforting comic-song, about a cousin who was frightened in the night by a monster that came into her bedroom; it turned out to be the guard-dog, dragging its chain. In an aria, she urges her not to be downhearted; a bride should not have sad eyes; she should be giving delight with her glances.
[3] The bridesmaids arrive. They sing of making a lovely green maiden’s wreath (a garland of violet-blue silk for her head). The wreath is delivered in a box, and (horror!) it is a silver funeral wreath. Agathe then bids them make a bridal crown from the white roses that the holy hermit had given her. 
Scene 6  An open-air venue for the prize shooting
[4] Huntsmen’s chorus. We all know this, surely.  What  can compare with the pleasure of hunting? (Not high on my list.) Yoho tralala.
Prince Ottokar assures Kuno that he is content with the suitor chosen, that is, Max. But where is the bride? Never mind, she might make Max nervous, so let the shooting match proceed. Max aims at a white dove in a tree, and, as he shoots, Agatha appears at that spot. She cries out, and falls; Kaspar also falls, lying in his shed blood (remember the black bird of prey); the dove flies away Good!). All are convinced he has killed his bride. But lo! she rises, and greets Max with a smile.
    As for Kaspar, Samiel comes to claim his life; he dies cursing Heaven and Samiel; Prince Ottokar sends the corpse to be dumped in the Wolf’s Glen. Then he turns to the miscreant Max: he banishes him and denies him marriage to Agathe. All the company speak up in Max’s defence. The Holy Hermit intervenes: he proposes not excommunication nor incarceration but probation, for a year, then the wedding can take place. Everyone agrees that whoever is pure in heart and has childlike trust can be assured of the kindness of God the Father.


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