Carl Maria von Weber Freischutz Nilsson Koth Gedda Crass Berry HegerCarl Maria von Weber – Der Freischütz

CAST: Ottokar: Wolfgang Anheisser, Kuno: Dieter Weller, Agathe: Birgit Nilsson, Ännchen: Erika Köth, Kaspar: Walter Berry, Max: Nicolai Gedda, Ein Eremit: Franz Crass, Killian: Jürgen Föster, Samiel: Wolfgang Büttner

Chor der Bayerische Staatsoper München
Wolfgang Baumgart, chorus master
Orchester der Bayerische Staatsoper München
Robert Heger, conductor

EMI, 1969 (2005)

Carl Maria von Weber widely contributed to the development of song, choral and piano music in the 19th century. However, Der Freischütz overshadowed all his works, being his most important opera.

Der Freischütz: Composition, Premiere, Influence

Der Freischütz (originally entitled Die Jägersbraut) was composed to a libretto by Friedrich Kind after Johann August Apel’s homonymous novel and, despite the superficiality that affects the text, Kind provided Weber with a libretto that helped him to perfect the conception of opera as total theatre.

Weber attended on the composition of Der Freischütz from 1817 to 1820 and conceived it as an extensive work, combining many different types and styles, with the use of the reminiscence motif (chiefly for the demonic invocations) after Spohr and the French composers.

After the premiere (1821) at the recently-opened Schauspielhaus in Berlin, Der Freischütz was successfully revived in Vienna, Prague, Copenhagen and in several other cities. However, it was after the English premiere that the most important commission came from the Covent Garden, for which the already sick composer created another (now unfortunately neglected) masterpiece, the opera Oberon (we reviered a recording of this opera conducted by John Eliot Gardiner here).

As for the musical impact of Der Freischütz, this opera was the source of Marschner’s Der Vampyr and, as Robin des Bois, of Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable. Even more significantly, in later times it influenced also Wagner in the composition of Der fliegende Holländer.

Der Freischütz: the Performance

The enthusiasm of the contemporaries for Der Freischütz can be easily understood and shared when listening to this 1969 recording. First-rate singers as Nicolai Gedda, Birgit Nilsson and Walter Berry sing the most important roles. Next to them, there is a cast of outstanding colleagues, of whom it is worth mentioning at least the coquette Ännchen of Erika Köth (her aria is really enjoyable) and the excellent Franz Crass as the Hermit before starting with the protagonists.

Nicolai Gedda (Max)

Nicolai Gedda as Max is rather unrealistic as a rustic hunter, but he is absolutely perfect for the opera demands, so the elegance of his character is not a fault. Gedda offers one of the most perfect and poetic interpretations of Max, who seems totally involved in the contemplation of his impossible love although he does not lack a certain heroism. His aria Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen (Act I) is a jewel for the expression of the most tender feelings and, in the last, animated section, Gedda’s velvety voice superbly reveals desperation and discouragement.

Birgit Nilsson (Agathe)

Birgit Nilsson is a charming, graceful Agathe, extremely persuasive as an innocent but afflicted young girl. She already captures the listener from her very first notes in the duet with Ännchen, where she displays a sincere intention to participate to the jokes of her friend, but it is in her introspective aria Wie nahte mir der Schlummer that the purity of her voice and her innate grace are truly and completely revealed. Nilssons’s perfect breath control seems to endlessly extend her singing, while the choice of some wonderful accents contribute to embellish her words.

Walter Berry (Kaspar)

Walter Berry’s Kaspar shares with Max’s Gedda the nobility of the voice, but in this case the singer demonstrates how it is possible to have a fine, even sumptuous vocal line and at the same time to sing a wicked, even demoniac, and temerarious role. Moreover, the rich timbre of his voice gives the character an irresistible charm.

Robert Heger’s Conduction

The unifier spirit of this Freischütz is conductor Robert Heger leading the Orchester der Bayerische Staatsoper. Heger gives brightness and poetry to the Freischütz and resorts to a wide variety of colours to create the indispensable alternation between light and shadow. The Overture provides an effective introduction to his precision and inspiration, but all the features that stand out here are brilliantly developed later, for example in the merry chorus of the hunters in the immediately next chorus or in the delicate arias of the two protagonists, while a darker, ominous atmosphere is masterfully represented in Kaspar’s aria (Schweig! Damit dich niemand warnt) and above all in the disturbing and gloomy long scene of the evocation of the demons in the second act, making easy to imagine a spectral valley.