Der Freischütz

by Sirje


Today I’m studying a little Freischütz.

It’s an opera written by Carl Maria von Weber, original Emo, ca. 1786-1826. Here he is, the sassy minx:

It’s considered a very important Romantic German opera, precursor to or at least a strong influence on Richard Wagner’s work. It weaves in a lot of old German folk songs and is set in old German hunting/woodsman society.

A “Freischütz” is kind of a marksman, and the opera is about a guy, Max, who is taking part in a shooting competition. Oh look, here it is now:

It’s a quite dark opera, really, for all the (ample) melodrama in the text. And the music is just breathtaking.

Ok so here’s the plot:

Max gets talked into using magical no-fail bullets by the Prince’s assistant Ranger, Kaspar (who in fact has a pact with the demon Samiel), so that Max will win the shooting contest and beat annoying peasant Kilian, thereby re/gaining his honour as a hunter and earning the right to marry his lady love Agathe (that’s me). Agathe spends most of her time worrying, visiting Hermits and interpreting bad omens while her perky cousin Ännchen sings a couple chirpy songs about nails, skinny boys, and her cousin who thought her dog was a ghost. Meanwhile, Kaspar builds himself a creepy stone circle for his devil-worshiping magic bullet-casting session and waits for Max to arrive, but Max is busy exchanging guilt trips and hallucinating with Agathe and Ännchen, who is either there to protect Agathe’s honour or else seriously can’t take a hint. Max eventually leaves for the Wolf’s Den to make his devil bullets, while Agathe cries into her wedding dress as usual and turns into a dove which then gets shot by Max. But don’t worry, it’s ok, because actually being engaged prevents you from being killed by magic bullets, so Agathe wakes up and sings about being alive, Kaspar dies instead and the Hermit arranges for a one-year engagement between Max and Agathe, the end.

Phew.

The first thing I like to do when I study a new role is highlight all my part. Why? Because I’m a dork like that. People make fun of me, I don’t care. I can see my part in the dark and you can’t haHA.

I can tell from this page that I first looked at this aria when I was first thinking of switching from mezzo to soprano, and long before my German was any good, because I had to remind myself that “ihn” (“him”) refers to Max (“Max!!!!!!”) , and I was totally obsessed with every single vowel and consonant and how to sing them (a) in German and (b) as a soprano.

There’s a heck of a lot of text in Der Freischütz, in a somewhat old style German, which can make for challenging and/or amusing translating sometimes. A sampling:

AGATHA: I love you, after all, so deeply. Should you not be lucky tomorrow, you would be from me, I from you torn…
MAX: Because of that I must be off again.
AGATHE: What’s pulling you?
MAX: I’ve been lucky a second time.
AGATHE: Again?
MAX: Yes anyway. A 16-pointer! It must be brought in, or else the farmers will steal it.
AGATHE: And where does it lie?
MAX: Quite far… by the Wolf’s Den!!!
AGATHE: Where?? What??? How appalling!! There in the den of terrors!!

But, as any singers out there reading this know, the silliness fades as you start to understand what the characters are all about, through the specific language choices of the librettist (in this case, Friedrich Kind) and how it all fits into the music, etc. You have to take these characters seriously if you hope to communicate anything other than your own sense of cynicism.

I’ll leave you with a little clip from the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus’s 2009 production of der Freischütz, directed by Robert Wilson and with costumes by Viktor & Rolf. It is *not* a traditional Freischütz. But it’s pretty memorable just the same.

And if the costumes caught your eye, here’s a clip all about the design and production of the costumes (in German).

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