A musically worthy Der Freischütz

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The Teatro all Scala most recent production of Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz was filmed in October of 2017 and is now released by NAXOS.

THE DVD 2.110597 boasts a mostly northern-European cast and an international production team. Myung-Whun Chung ably leads the orchestra and the chorus of La Scala, the latter singing in the original German and doing some dramatic and musical heavy-lifting throughout the opera. The results, greatly aided by top notch video by Jean-Pierre Loisil satisfy.

Weber’s 1821 opera Der Freischütz is an acquired taste offering that demands from those who take it on the casting of decent-sized voices. An accepting audience tolerant of its spooky quaintness is also needed. Then there is the matter of those interminably lengthy stretches of spoken dialogue handled by singers likely to orate rather than speak like human beings. Do we cut them, do we allow the hapless cast to speak them in high school level German? Do we speak them in English and sing the music in German?

The composer was already paving the way for the Wagnerian era with its mega-sized musical demands on the voices and orchestra not far in the future, but he still felt the pull of Singspiel folksiness.

For a successful staging of Der Freischütz a nice production design is needed, that and good stage direction that draws believable portrayals from those in the cast. Here we get a shoestring-looking production with a non-existent forest, a house with no walls, and operatic posturing, rather than acting. The costumes are, frankly, horrid – especially those for the women. The casting of the magic bullets comes off inexcusably tacky when considering the technical resources of La Scala.

In the Naxos recording we find Der Freischütz musically well served by a cast led by Julia Kleiter, a matronly Agathe who delivers a lovely Leise, leise in Act II and later at the top of Act III a perfectly sung Und ob die Wolke. As her sister, the soprano Eva Liebau is a bit long in the tooth for the ingénue role of Ännchen, and this being video, an unforgiving medium in close ups, does neither soprano no favors.

Weber wrote goods parts for the lower male voices, and here Günther Groissböck as Kaspar, Michael König as the Hermit, and Frank van Hove as Kuno/Samiel all three fit the bill to perfection, with barihunk Groissböck delivering an impressively well sung and demonic Kaspar- doing a great job in the aria that ends Act I. The supporting roles of Ottokar and Kilian are also well sung by baritones Michael Kraus and Till von Orlowsky respectively.

I have a problem with the muscular singing of Michael König in the crucially important role of Max. König has a heroic-sized voice that serves him well in the Wagnerian roles with which he has built a European career. But the role of Max calls for both dramatic and lyrical singing: big in Durch die Wälder, nice and easy in his scenes with Agathe and Ännchen.  Yet König delivers non-stop sound by the pound: loud, louder, loudest, often straying off pitch.

Check out on You Tube Nicolai Gedda and or Peter Schreier singing Max’s music and you’ll get an idea of what I think Carl Maria von Weber had in mind. Meanwhile, with a better Der Freischütz not in sight we have to give renewed thanks to Naxos for digging out from the dustbin of almost-forgotten works a musically worthy Der Freischütz.

Rafael de Acha            http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

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