Thursday, June 01, 2006

Der Freischütz



For my retirement I was given a $100 gift certificate at Borders. A drop in the bucket, but a welcome one.

I have purchased a DVD of Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber from the Zurich Opera. I have only seen this opera once before, in the 1970’s at the Wienerstaatsoper. The two productions could not be more different.

In Vienna the orchestra pit was overflowing with extra horns who made a fine blast of sound. The sets were in a romanticized naturalistic style. This Zurich production with Nickolas Harnoncourt shows a bare stage and black costumes, and in the pit are only four natural horns, which produce a relatively delicate sound. These are the same natural horns that blooped their way through Giulio Cesare, and now they are blooping their way through Freischütz. Pardon me if I don't acquire a taste for this.

Freischütz is still in the Singspiel tradition with spoken dialog. The opera has a Faust plot. Max is a candidate for the post of forester, but doubts his ability to win the shooting contest and the hand of his beloved Agathe on his own, and sells his soul to the devil in exchange for bullets that never miss.

It is one of the underperformed gems of opera with great arias and an exciting plot. They seem to be working very hard here to make it boring. I suppose this approach is cheaper, but it’s not much fun.

Every now and then people lie down on the floor for no reason, usually in groups, all pointing in the same direction. Does it beat boredom to have something to puzzle over?

The plot of Freischütz is difficult to make clear, especially the ending. We're dealing with bullets which cannot be seen. Max aims at the white dove and hits Agathe who seems to fall dead. When she does not die, it is never clear exactly why. It is also not clear why Kaspar dies instead. It is an unsatisfying deus ex machina.

Everything from Zurich seems to include the Hungarian bass László Polgár, a tall man with a somber expression and a beautifully lyrical bass voice. He's quite gloomily attractive. His name does not appear on the notes anywhere, but I remember him from other opera dvds from Zurich, most notably as Leporello in Don Giovanni. Matti Salminen as Kaspar is wonderful, the scariest man on the opera stage.

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