The disappointing Max and strangely-staged Wolf's Glen scene aside, this Freischutz was enjoyable
Of Weber's operas, Der Freischutz was always the one that was the most familiar to me and the one that stayed with me the most. It is especially good for the wonderful music and the intensely atmospheric Wolf's Glen Scene in Act 2. This 1981 Stuttgart production was really quite enjoyable to me, not as good as the 1968 Hamburg performance with Arlene Saunders and Gotlob Frick, but I did prefer it over the 2004 Zurich production with Matti Salminen(whose Kaspar was the best thing about that production).
The performance is not perfect. Dennis Russell Davies' conducting is mostly excellent but was in need of more intensity in the Wolf's Glen Scene. Toni Kramer's Max is disappointing, his singing is strained and I got the sense that the role needed a bigger voice, and he is in my view a stolid and unimaginative actor. But the biggest debit was the staging of the Wolf's Glen Scene, strangeness has replaced the creepiness and dark intensity that made that scene the highlight of the opera, and the six-foot masturbating bunny didn't help matters either.
Conversely, it is visually interesting. I thought the "once upon a time" concept fitted very well within the story, and the sets and costumes do look colourful. As does most of the staging with the exaggerated perspectives, stylised movements, pop-up puppet-like characters, doll-like women and the toy theatre box setting. I wasn't so sure though about the Bavarian peasants being maliciously poked fun at.
From a musical point of view, it is excellent. The orchestral playing is beautiful and lively while allowing the darkness of the score to come through also. Davies' conducting as said is mostly excellent, and the chorus are well balanced and sing and act strongly.
Kramer aside, the singing is excellent. Catarina Ligendza is a charming Agathe, Leise Leise is very expressive, and Railli Viljakainen's Annchen is suitably pert. Wolfgang Probst is very demonic as Kaspar and sings his two Act 1 arias wonderfully, while Wolfram Raub imposes as Samiel. Excellent also are Wolfgang Schone's Ottakar, Helmut Holzapfel's Kilian and Roland Bracht's resonant Hermit. All in all, has its problems but from my perspective it was enjoyable enough with a good concept and excellent singing.
7/10 Bethany Cox
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