Unimaginative production values and staging, great musical values and performances
Der Freischutz is not one of my favourite operas, but it is Weber's best and has wonderful music. This production was rather disappointing to me, but musically it was outstanding and I have seen worse productions before. For a better version watch the 1968 production with Arlene Saunders and Gottlob Frick.
Reviewing this 2004 Zurich performance, I'll start with the negatives. The three main problems were the sets, the costumes and the staging. The sets are very minimalist and unappealing in look, with the back of the stage a yellowish green, the Wolf Glen Scene's set so raked that the performers have to crawl on all fours in order to go upstage and the use of very unrealistic hard-edged geometrical shapes. Even the forest, not a character as such but I think important in Der Freischutz, is bland-looking, no trees just sickly-green backdrops. The costumes are rather unimaginative, with the chorus in black overcoats, Agatha in drab yellow and Annchen in a dress that would look more at home in a Halloween shop. The staging is no real improvement, while I did like how the trio was sung I found the decision to have Annchen playing with a pair of scissors while walking back and forth to be very annoying, and equally was irritated the presentation of the 7 bullets is done by a mime each in a black jump-suit who then have to crawl upstage like ants and the crude sex reference involving a rifle between Agathe and Annchen.
On the plus side, the video and picture quality is fine, and the sound apart from fading away seemingly in the Wolf Glen scene is good. The orchestra play wonderfully with the brass section especially good, and Nickolaus Harnencourt while not my definition of brisk is still assured and respectful with Weber's style. The singing is wonderful, with only the Agathe of Inga Nielson disappointing. She seems rather uninvolved and her singing is sometimes pleasant but also sometimes weak. This was a big problem for me as the best known aria from Der Freischutz is Leise Leise from Act 2. Luckily, everyone else fares much better. Malin Hartelius I have seen before, and she has always struck as very promising with a beautiful voice and exciting stage presence. Her performance as Annchen boasts both of those as well as a compassionate air. Peter Seiffert is a musical and well sung Max, no signs of a wobble or strain. Werner Groschel provides excellent singing as Kuno also. Best of all is Matti Salminen. Some people, including me, think that a great Kaspar is important to a Der Freischutz production's success. Salminen, although the production itself is less than great, is more than great, he's outstanding. Despite him looking like Uncle Fester from The Addams Family, his Kaspar is suitably malevolent and sly, and Salminen still has that huge, black-hearted sonorous voice of his that is ideal for the role.
All in all, a disappointment production values and staging-wise, but when it comes to musical values and performances(apart from a lacklustre Agathe) the performance is elevated to several higher levels. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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