Der Freischütz

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Der Freischütz, Op. 77, J. 277, (usually translated as The Marksman[1] or The Freeshooter[2]) is a German opera with spoken dialogue in three acts by Carl Maria von Weber with a libretto by Friedrich Kind. It premiered on 18 June 1821 at the Schauspielhaus Berlin. It is considered the first important German Romantic opera,[3] especially in its national identity and stark emotionality.[4] The plot is based on the German folk legend of the Freischütz and many of its tunes were thought to inspired by German folk music, but this is a common misconception.[5] Its unearthly portrayal of the supernatural in the famous Wolf's Glen scene has been described as "the most expressive rendering of the gruesome that is to be found in a musical score".[6]

Performance history[edit]

The reception of Der Freischütz surpassed Weber's own hopes and it quickly became an international success, with productions in Vienna the same year followed by Leipzig, Karlsruhe, Prague, other German centres, and Copenhagen. 1824 saw productions in four London theatres in four different adaptations, as well as the French premiere at the Théâtre de l'Odéon as Robin des Bois.[7] Among the many artists influenced by Der Freischütz was a young Richard Wagner.[8] A version in French with recitatives was prepared by Hector Berlioz for a production at the Paris Opera in 1841.[9] This was revived at the Paris Opéra-Comique in 2011.[10]

The overture and the "Huntsmen's Chorus" from act 3 ("With princely enjoyment and manly employment") are often performed as concert pieces.

Roles[edit]

Costume designs for Samiel and Caspar in the original production
Role[11] Voice type[11] Premiere cast, 18 June 1821[12]
(Conductor: Carl Maria von Weber)
Max, an assistant forester tenor Heinrich Stümer[13]
Kilian, a wealthy peasant baritone August Wiedemann
Cuno, a hereditary forester bass Johann Gottfried Karl Wauer
Caspar, an assistant forester bass Heinrich Blume
Ännchen, Agathe's relative soprano[14] Johanna Eunicke
Agathe, Cuno's daughter soprano Karoline Seidler-Wranitzky
Samiel, the 'Black Huntsman' spoken Josef Hillebrand
Four bridesmaids soprano
Ottokar, a sovereign prince baritone Gottlieb Rebenstein
Hermit bass Johann Georg Gern
Hunters, peasants, spirits, bridesmaids, attendants

Synopsis[edit]

Performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. Courtesy of Musopen

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An 1822 illustration of Der Freischütz depicting the opening scene with Max and Kilian
Place: Bohemia
Time: At the end of the Thirty Years' War

Act 1[edit]

The young assistant forester Max loves Agathe and is to become the successor to Cuno, the head forester and Agathe's father. But a test of skill in marksmanship is required, the trial to be held the following day.

At a target shooting, Max loses to the young peasant Kilian, who is proclaimed "King of marksmen." (Chorus: "Victoria! der meister soll leben"/"Victory! Long live the master"; the good-naturedly mocking song of Kilian: "Schau der Herr"/"Let him gaze on me as king.")

Because Max has had ill luck for several days he easily falls under the influence of Caspar, who persuades Max to cast seven magic bullets to be used in the contest. Caspar, whose soul is to be forfeited to the devil on the following day, hopes to obtain three more years of grace by substituting Max in his place. (Trio: Cuno, Caspar, Max; chorus: "O diese Sonne"/"O the sun, fearsomely it rises.")

Left alone, Max sinks into deep melancholy at the thought of losing Agathe through failure at the shooting contest. (Aria: "Durch die Wälder"/"Through woods and fields.") Caspar with weird incantations tries to imbue him with courage. (Song: "Hier im ird'schen Jammerthal"/"Here in this vale of tears.")

He hands Max his gun loaded with a magic bullet, and to his own astonishment Max kills an eagle soaring at a great height. He resolves to go with Caspar at midnight to the terrible Wolf's Glen to cast the magic bullets, which will kill anything the shooter wants, in order to win the prize. Caspar, left alone, triumphs. (Aria: "Schweig! damit dich Niemand warnt"/"Silence, let no one warn him.")

Act 2[edit]

Design for the Wolf's Glen (1822, Weimar)

Agathe's chamber

Agathe is filled with sad forebodings. She sings of her meeting with a hermit in the forest, who told her that in some danger which menaced her, she would be protected by her bridal wreath. At the moment when Max shoots the magic bullet, the picture of Agathe's ancestor hanging against the wall falls to the floor, slightly wounding her. Agathe's cousin and companion Ännchen replaces it. (Duet: "Schelm, halt fest!"/"Rogue, hold fast, I will teach you.") Agathe is still more disturbed, but Ännchen endeavours to cheer her with jests. (Arietta: "Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen"/"Comes a pretty boy this path.")

Agathe left alone awaits Max with the news of his success, which she decides to interpret as a favourable omen. (Recitative and aria: "Wie nahte mir der Schlummer ... Leise, leise"/"My eyelids droop in slumber ... Low, low, sacred words".)

Max arrives; he acknowledges that he has not been the victor, but explains that he has killed a deer, which he will bring this evening from the Wolf's Glen. Notwithstanding the prayers of Agathe and Ännchen, Max departs. (Trio: "Wie? Was? Entsetzen!"/"What, oh horror! there in the wolf's gorge?")

The Wolf's Glen at night

Caspar calls upon Samiel, the Black Huntsman, for assistance, and prepares the casting of the magic bullets. Max arrives and is warned by the spirit of his mother to abandon the project. Samiel conjures up the shape of Agathe, representing her as drowning herself in despair at Max's ill success, whereupon he plunges into the glen and with demoniacal noise the casting of the bullets is begun.

Act 3[edit]

Agathe's chamber

Agathe is praying. (Aria: "Und ob die Wolke sie verhülle"/"Through clouds obscure still shines the sun in radiant sky.") Her doubts have returned, owing to a dream of ill omen, but Ännchen again cheers her with laughter and song. (Romance and aria, subsequently added by Weber: " Einst träumte meiner sel'gen Base"/"My deceased cousin had a dream.") The bridesmaids arrive with the bridal wreath. (Song: "Wir winden dir den Jungfern-Kranz"/"We wind round thee the bridal wreath.") When Ännchen opens the box, however, she finds within a funeral wreath, which still further increases Agathe's misgivings. She is somewhat comforted by the memory of the hermit's promise that she shall be protected by her bridal wreath.

Design for the act 3 finale (original 1821 production)

The meeting of the marksmen

Having split the seven bullets between them, Max has used four and Caspar has used three. Max demands Caspar give him his last bullet to use in the final shooting contest, but Caspar refuses. As Max leaves, Caspar shoots a fox, thus making Max's bullet the seventh and controlled by the Evil One.

The prize shooting

Prince Ottokar awaits Max at his tent. (Chorus of foresters: "Was gleicht wohl auf Erden"/"What excels the pleasures of the chase.") Max is now to shoot a dove. As he takes aim, Samiel, the black huntsman, appears to guide the bullet, and causes Max to fire at Agathe, who is apparently wounded. (Finale: "Schaut, o schaut"/"See, oh see, he shoots his bride.") Agathe falls, but her bridal wreath has deflected the bullet, which struck Caspar. Agathe revives from her faint. Caspar, seeing a holy hermit by her side, realizes that he has failed. Samiel grasps him instead of Max, whereupon Caspar expires with a curse upon his lips. Prince Ottokar orders the corpse to be thrown into the Wolf's Glen, then demands and receives an explanation from Max. In spite of pleas from Cuno, Agathe, peasants, and huntsman, the infuriated Prince pronounces the sentence of banishment. Before this can be carried out, however, the hermit enters into their midst. The Prince acknowledges the holy man, and asks for his counsel. The hermit explains that the combined effects of love for Agathe, and fear of losing her should he fail the shooting trial are what caused Max to stray from a life that was formerly without fault. The hermit goes on to condemn the trial shot, suggests a probationary year as penalty, and asks who among the assembled has looked into their own heart and would be willing to cast the first stone. If Max lives a faultless life, he will gain forgiveness and be permitted to marry Agathe. The Prince commends the hermit for his wisdom saying a higher power speaks through him. The Prince ends his pronouncement by saying he, himself, will place the hand of Agathe in that of Max when the probation is over. The opera ends with the ensemble singing prayers of thanks.

Instrumentation[edit]

The opera Der Freischütz is scored for a standard-sized orchestra composed of:

In the orchestra pit: 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings (violin I and II, viola, cello, double bass).

Onstage: 1 clarinet, 2 horns, 1 trumpet, violins, celli.

Recordings[edit]

Year Cast
(Agathe, Ännchen, Max, Caspar)
Conductor,
Opera house and orchestra
Label
1954 Elisabeth Grümmer,
Rita Streich,
Hans Hopf,
Kurt Böhme
Wilhelm Furtwängler,
Wiener Philharmoniker and Wiener Staatsopernchor
CD: EMI Classics
Cat: 67419
1955 Elisabeth Grümmer,
Rita Streich,
Hans Hopf,
Max Proebstl
Erich Kleiber,
Orchester und Chor des Radio Köln, (WDR radio production)
CD: Opera D'Oro
Cat: 7038
1959 Elisabeth Grümmer,
Lisa Otto,
Rudolf Schock,
Karl Christian Kohn
Joseph Keilberth,
Berliner Philharmoniker
CD: EMI Classics
Cat: 69342
1959 Irmgard Seefried,
Rita Streich,
Richard Holm,
Kurt Böhme
Eugen Jochum,
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
CD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 000459302
1969 Birgit Nilsson,
Erika Köth,
Nicolai Gedda,
Walter Berry
Robert Heger,
Chor & Orchester der Bayerischen Staatsoper München
CD: EMI Electrola Collection – 7235482
1973 Gundula Janowitz,
Edith Mathis,
Peter Schreier,
Theo Adam
Carlos Kleiber,
Staatskapelle Dresden and Rundfunkchor Leipzig
CD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 457 736–2
1980 Hildegard Behrens,
Helen Donath,
René Kollo,
Peter Meven
Rafael Kubelík,
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
CD: Decca
Cat: 417119
1990 Karita Mattila,
Eva Lind,
Francisco Araiza,
Ekkehard Wlaschiha
Sir Colin Davis,
Staatskapelle Dresden and Rundfunkchor Leipzig
CD: Decca/Philips
Cat: 478015
1999 Inga Nielsen,
Malin Hartelius,
Peter Seiffert,
Matti Salminen
Nikolaus Harnoncourt,
Zurich Opera
DVD: Decca,
Cat: ??
2012 Christine Brewer,
Sally Matthews,
Simon O'Neill,
Lars Woldt
Sir Colin Davis,
London Symphony Orchestra and London Symphony Chorus,
(Recording of a live concert performance at the Barbican in London on 21 April)
CD: LSO Live
Cat: 0726

Interpolation of Invitation to the Dance[edit]

In 1841, Hector Berlioz added a ballet for a production of the opera in Paris. He orchestrated Weber's piano piece Invitation to the Dance for this purpose. While this orchestration soon became principally known as a concert piece in its own right, it also continued to be used in Der Freischütz, at least at the Paris Opera. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky more than once expressed his strong disapproval of this interpolation. In 1873 he described it as "utterly incongruous", "tasteless" and "silly".[15] And in 1879, concerning the production there featuring Gabrielle Krauss as Agatha, he wrote:

Der Freischütz afforded me great pleasure; in many places in the first act my eyes were moist with tears. In the second act Krauss pleased me greatly by her wonderful rendition of Agathe's aria. The Wolf's Glen was staged not at all as splendidly as I had expected. The third act was curious because of the French brazenness with which they took the liberty, on the one hand, of inserting Invitation à la valse with the most stupid dances, and, on the other, of cutting out the role of the hermit who appears at the end for the dénouement.[16]

Derivative works[edit]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Scholes, Percy A., 1952, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, London: Oxford University Press, p. 219.
  2. ^ Clive Brown. "Freischütz, Der." in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Ed. Stanley Sadie (subscription required)
  3. ^ Boyden, p. 339: "The German Romantic opera really began with Der Freischütz of Carl Maria von Weber (1786–1826). See also p.284 n.2: "Indeed from Weber's Freischütz (1821) one can date the beginning of musical Romanticism."
  4. ^ Boyden, p. 339: "This work ... marked the emancipation of the German opera from Italian and French models ... In addition to the magic and supernatural elements, the opera specializes in local color of the forest, peasants, rustic love, hunting, and hunting horns ... the folk tale, the folk-song type of melody, and folk dances. These elements are rather naïve and nationalist in emphasis."
  5. ^ Taruskin, Richard; Gibbs, Christopher H. (2013). The Oxford History of Western Music (College ed.). Oxford University Press, Inc. p. 527. ISBN 978-0-19-509762-7. 
  6. ^ Kobbé 1997, p. 958.
  7. ^ Carl Maria von Weber: Der Freischütz. In: Kaminski, Piotr. Mille et Un Opéras. Fayard, 2003, pp. 1726–7.
  8. ^ Fisher (2002) p. 5
  9. ^ Berlioz and the Romantic Imagination. Catalogue for exhibition at Victoria and Albert Museum for Berlioz centenary. Art Council, London, 1969, p. 84.
  10. ^ Le Freischütz. Opéra-Comique season book 2010–2011, pp. 37–38.
  11. ^ a b The role names, their order and voice types are from Brown 1992, p. 296, unless otherwise noted.
  12. ^ Premiere cast from Casaglia (2005), unless otherwise noted.
  13. ^ Kutsch & Riemens 2003, vol. 6, pp. 4584–4585, say that Heinrich Stümer (1789–1856) created the role of Max. This spelling of the last name agrees with the complete score published by C. F. Peters (Weber n.d. [1895]). Casaglia 2005 lists "Karl Heinrich Stürmer". Kutsch & Riemens list a bass-baritone by the name of Heinrich Stürmer (1811–1902), but do not have any entry for a Karl Heinrich.
  14. ^ According to Brown 1992, p. 296, Ännchen is a mezzo-soprano role. However, the complete score published by C.F. Peters (Weber n.d. [1895]) lists it as a soprano role, as do Holden 2001, p. 1053, and Kobbé 1997, p. 957. Johanna Eunicke, who sang the role in the original production, was a soprano. Weber added a romanza to the third act ("Einst traümte meiner sel'gen Base") especially for this singer, which she performed to great acclaim at the premiere (Kutsch & Riemens 2003, vol. 2, p. 1366).
  15. ^ Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Italian Opera (Итальянская опера), Article for the journal Russian Register (1873)
  16. ^ Tchaikovsky Research
  17. ^ Magic Hunter at the Internet Movie Database
  18. ^ "K. A. Craeyvanger Introduction & Variations: On Theme from Der Freischutz (Guitar Solo), score, Chanterelle Verlag (Musikverlag Zimmermann), 2011

Sources

External links[edit]