Giving Der Freischütz your best shot

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Casting Carl Maria von Weber’s 1821 warhorse Der Freischütz can be tricky. If you have a true lyric-dramatic soprano (the Italians call it Soprano Spinto) available to sing Agathe you have one third of your casting challenge solved. If she happens to be a really good singer, one capable of spinning out a nice legato line for both Wie nahte mir der Schlummer…Leise, leise and Und ob die Wolke and later the strength to ride the climactic moments that abound in the music of Agathe then that is your lucky day.

In the Pentatone recording, the cast is enhanced by the extraordinary Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, whose lyric-dramatic gifts are put to work by the immensely gifted 32 year old artist in a memorably sung performance.

Oh but then, who are you going to cast as the deeply troubled Romaic hero Max? If you have the soprano you just hired as Agathe, then you want a bit more sound from your Max than a garden variety full-voiced tenor. Max has a nice trio in act two in which he has to vocally stand up to his stage partner and her little companion Ännchen and subsequently move on to the spookiest part of the opera: the Wolf Glenn’s scene.

This listener was taken aback by the sad condition of tenor Andreas Schager’s voice, plagued as it is by a troublesome wobble that causes him to go astray in the lower and middle voice in which most of the role is written, as is the case with Durch die Wälder. The role of Max has at various times been sung by voices as lyrical as Francisco Araiza, Peter Schreier and Nicolai Gedda, and it seems as if Andreas Schager’s voice, which has been punished by too many Siegfrieds and Tristans is not the ideal one for the role of the haunted hunter.

And there’s Caspar, neither a lovable wise man nor a friendly ghost but a wicked ghostly presence with a couple of very difficult arias to dispatch in Act One, one chockfull of F sharps, the other with nearly two octaves of vocal hurdles.

If you don’t know who Gottlob Frick is, check him out sometime on You Tube singing Kaspar’s Hier im ird’schen Jammerthal and Schweig! damit dich Niemand warnt and you will hear rock solid, inky-black bass singing much needed by the singer who takes on this role. Alright, so Frick is gone, but out there in the cold cruel world that the Opera business can be, there must be a bass-baritone capable of dispatching Caspar’s killer arias without much trouble. In this recording, the estimable American bass-baritone Alan Held now nearing the end of a fine career sounds dry and tired, barking out the highest notes in the part, and lacking the vocal heft needed for it.

The rest of the musical personnel is fine, with soprano Sofia Formina utterly charming as the Ännchen, the Leipzig Radio Chorus outstanding especially in Was gleicht wohl auf Erden, and Marek Janowski beautifully leading the Frankfurt Radio Symphony in which the folkloric and the deadly serious perfectly balance.

*** Quite good

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

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