Our OTF Opera spotlight feeds into our overall February theme on ITYWLTMT and the Tuesday Blog which discusses topics that have in common the letter “F”.

Carl Maria von Weber is considered one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school; he is remembered for his complex piano sonatas, his works for clarinet and his seminal operas. According to Wikipedia, Weber's operas Der Freischütz, Euryanthe and Oberon greatly influenced the development of the Romantic opera in Germany. Der Freischütz came to be regarded as the first German "nationalist" opera, Euryanthe developed the Leitmotif technique decades before Wagner and others took it to the greatest heights, while Oberon may have influenced Mendelssohn's music for A Midsummer Night's Dream and, at the same time, revealed Weber's lifelong interest in the music of non-Western cultures.

In German folklore, a Freischütz (loosely translated as "Freeshooter" or "Marksman Who Doesn't Need to Aim"),by contract with the devil, has obtained a certain number of bullets destined to hit without fail whatever object he wishes. As the legend is usually told, six of the magic bullets (German: Freikugeln, literally "free bullets"), are thus subservient to the marksman's will, but the seventh is at the absolute disposal of the devil himself.

Stories about the Freischütz were especially common during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, but the tale became widely circulated in 1811 when Johann August Apel included it as the first tale in the Gespensterbuch (or “Book of Ghosts”). Apel's tale formed the subject of Weber's opera, following his librettist Johann Friedrich Kind’s suggestion that this setting of the story would make an excellent plot for an opera.

And he was right - despite, or perhaps because of, its lack of musical pretension, the reception of Der Freischütz surpassed Weber's own hopes and it quickly became an international success, with productions in Vienna shortly after the Berlin premiere in 1821, followed by Leipzig, Karlsruhe, Prague, other German centres, and Copenhagen. Among the many artists influenced by Der Freischütz was a young Richard Wagner (one can see the rapprochement between Freischutz and Wagner’s use of the supernatural in his operas), and Berlioz prepared a French version with recitatives for a production at the Paris Opera in 1841, revived 170 years later at the Paris Opéra-Comique in 2011.

Sometimes, in retrospect, history doesn't tell the full story about a work of art. Today's audiences tend to be a bit more sophisticated, but those who relax and leave expectations behind can still enjoy this magical story. This melodramatic tale has the feel of a campfire story, the sort of crowd-pleasing thriller found throughout the dramatic arts.

The Performance

According to Gramophone magazine, this 1958 performance brings vigor to this ghostly tale. "Keilberth's Freischütz was a classic in its day, and long held the field. Its memorable performances include Rudolf Schock's elegant if slightly aloof Max to one of the most famous Agathes of the century, Elisabeth Grummer, then still at the peak of her career, and singing here strongly and affectingly. […] Lisa Otto nips about nimbly as Aennchen, and Karl Christian Kohn is a Kaspar of rather less distinction. It is for the memory of these well-loved performances that the set earns its reissue, and no less for Keilberth's loyal and loving direction of the score. It was good to find how well all the spookery in the Wolf's Glen comes up in a recording that is now 30 years old[…] Keilberth's was a straight, traditional, expert Fretschulz of the kind that remains in the mainstream of German operatic repertories."

Carl Maria von WEBER (1786 –1826)
Der Freischütz, op. 77 (J. 277)
Opera in three acts, German libretto by Friedrich Kind

Elisabeth Grümmer (Agathe)
Lisa Otto (Ännchen)
Rudolf Schock (Max,)
Karl Christian Kohn (Caspar)
Berlin Opera Chorus
Berliner Philharmoniker
Joseph Keilberth, conducting
(Grünewald Church, Berlin, Germany, 1958)

Synopsis: http://classicalmusic.about.com/od/o...z-Synopsis.htm
Libretto: http://opera.stanford.edu/Weber/Frei.../libretto.html
Hyperlink (MQCD Musique Classique) http://www.mqcd-musique-classique.co...ead.php?t=4214