Decomposing Der Freischütz

There’s been a lot of talk recently about whether or not it’s legit to change text, music or dramaturgy for problem operas like Madama Butterfly.  I get pretty frustrated by this because it happens all the time in Europe, especially in the German speaking countries, a fact which seems to escape the notice of many involved in this debate.  Usually it’s the dramaturgy that gets changed.  Changes to the music are rare indeed and, traditional playing with operetta dialogue aside, the libretto usually doesn’t change.  And, of course it’s not just “problem operas” that get the treatment.  Today I’m going to write about a “concept” production of Weber’s Der Freischütz recorded at the Vienna State Opera in 2018.


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Weber’s 1823 “Grand-heroic opera” Euryanthe doesn’t get performed very often.  It’s not hard to see why even though Christof Loy’s production for the Theater an der Wien filmed in 2018 has some interesting features.


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Singing Only Softly

Last night was the last performance at Heliconian Hall of Loose Tea Music Theatre’s double bill of Anne Frank operas.  The first half of the show centred on Grigori Frid’s monodrama for soprano and chamber ensemble (given here in piano score) The Diary of Anne Frank.   It’s a work in 21 scenes of which 15 were performed last night.  For a Soviet work of the 1970s it’s surprisingly modern in style with some interesting music for the piano.  The vocal part though is pretty unsympathetic and although Gillian Grossman managed it pretty well a lot of it lies too high for comfort or even comprehension.


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terezinTerezín/Theresienstadt is a CD of music composed in the concentration camp at Terezín in what was then Czechoslovakia.  Virtually the entire Czech intelligentsia; certainly those of Jewish or Communist persuasion, were imprisoned in a kind of “show camp” to demonstrate to the world that the Nazis weren’t as bad as made out.  Nine of the ten composers featured on the disc ended up on a “Polentransport”; a one way ticket to Auschwitz.  No story is more poignant than that of Ilse Weber, a nurse in the hospital.  She chose to accompany the sick children of the camp on their final journey and reportedly sang to them in the gas chamber.

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Historic Der Freischütz

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Hamburg State Opera cooperated with Polyphon and NDR to make a series of thirteen films for television of assorted operas.  They are all available as a boxed set called Cult Operas of the 1970s but one or two of them are also available separately.  One such is a 1968 recording of Weber’s Der Freischütz.  It was directed for film/TV by Rolf Liebermann and recorded in the studio using the HSO’s stage production.  I think the action is lip synched to a pre-recorded soundtrack (normal practice at the time) but I’m not sure.


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Abstract Freischütz

Nikolaus Harnoncourt has long been one of my favourite conductors, particularly for pieces that require a strong sense of period.  The same goes for the wonderful Zürich Opera House Orchestra who, uniquely as far as I know, can change up their instruments to suit the piece.  For Weber’s Der Freischütz, recorded in 1999, they use valveless brass but, as best I can tell, modern woodwinds and it all sounds great especially in the many hunting scenes.

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The way by swan

No Madelaines were harmed in reviewing this DVD.  It’s a 1992 recording from the Wiener Staatsoper of, of course, Lohengrin and its main claim to fame is that stars Placido Domingo (note no further jokes about water fowl despite the prominent role of Heinrich der Vogler).  It’s one of those DVDs from the 80s and 90s that are a bit frustrating.  The singing is very good indeed.  Domingo is superb and the rest are at least very good plus Abbado conducts with real flair but the production is dull as ditch water and the video quality is awful.

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Forge a magic bullet and your lifestyle will improve

There’s a lot to like in Opera Atelier’s current production of Weber’s Der Freischütz but also some things that are just plain puzzling.  I enjoyed it but certain aesthetic choices made no sense at all to me.

Let’s start with the good stuff.  The OA template was relaxed quite a bit, particularly in the dance department.  Allowing the women to dance in point shoes allowed for a degree of choreographic flexibility that was most welcome to me.  This, from a dance point of view, was the best OA production I have seen.  The singing, though stylistically inconsistent, was also uniformly excellent.  Meghan Lindsay’s Agathe was superb.  She had much the most dramatic voice on display and, to me, was the truest to the real sensibility of the piece.  Carla Huhtanen, as Aanchen, was also excellent though in such a different way that wondered whether they were in the same production.  Solid singing from the men too especially Krešimir Špicer as Max who was very stylish, if not especially heroic.  The design and lighting elements were also not too constrained by baroque considerations and worked pretty well.

Meghan Lindsay and Krešimir Špicer in Opera Atelier’s production of Der Freischütz (Bruce Zinger photo).

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Heading into winter

The leaves have turned and the Canadian Opera Company Season is underway so winter can’t be far away.  I’ve now seen both the COC fall productions so I need to find alternative fare between now and February when things kick off again.  So far I’ve found two live shows of interest in town.  At the end of October Opera Atelier is putting on Weber’s Der Freischütz.  This is a departure for OA who have previously (bar once) not put on anything later than Mozart and that in a rather idiosyncratic style.  I think it’s an interesting move and I hope it stimulates the creative juices at OA and sparks some of the innovation that made OA such an exciting company ten or twenty years ago.  If it turns into an exercise in persuading us that 19th century Romanticism is really just an extension of the Baroque I shall probably be feeling like the guy in the picture.  The other live show is Essential Opera’s The Threepenny Opera being presented in concert at Heliconian Hall on November 7th.  Essential Opera I suppose is a semi-pro outfit operating on very small budgets and The Threepenny Opera seems like a good fit.  I felt that last year’s attempt at something grander was rather a case of biting off more than they could chew.  Continue reading

Opera Atelier announces 2012/13 season

Opera Atelier announced their 2012/13 season today.

Carla Huhtanen slumming it with the rest of us, queuing to get into a concert at the Four Seasons Centre

The exciting bit is a move into early romantic territory with Weber’s Der Freischutz.  The cast includes local favourites Krešimir Špicer, Carla Huhtanen, Curtis Sullivan, Olivier Laquerre and Michael Uloth. The creative team is the usual OA gang and Tafelmusik will be in the pit, which is an interesting choice to out it mildly.

The less exciting bit is another revival of The Magic Flute in English. I’ll be tempted to see it to see the Pamina of Laura Albino, Mireille Asselin sing Papagena and see how Ambur Braid does with the Queen of the Night in a smaller house. Still, I first saw OA’s Flute over 20 years ago. I’ve seen it quite a few times in both its “full” and cut down for kids versions and I’m not that excited. Has that “bums on seats” feel.

Here’s the full announcement.