Mixed results for the Liceu’s Freischütz

Weber, Der Freischütz: Soloists, Orquestra Simfònica y Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu. Conductor: Michael Boder. Liceu de Barcelona. 17 & 18. 5.2011 (JMI)

Production: Staatsoper Hamburg
Direction: Peter Konwitschny
Sets and Costumes: Gabriele Koerbl
Lighting: Hans Toelstede


Max: Christopher Ventris/Lance Ryan
Agathe: Petra Maria Schnitzer/Bettina Jensen
Kaspar: Albert Dohmen/Lars Woldt
Ánnchen: Ofelia Sala/Elena de la Merced
Eremit: Matti Salminen/Friedemann Röhling
Ottokar: Lauri Vasar
Kuno: Rolf Haunstein
Killian: Manel Esteve Madrid

Production Picture © A. Bofill

Der Freischütz is a most relevant work in the history of opera, because it represents the start of the German national opera, previously obscured by   Italian opera. Since its premiere in 1821 it has acquired a huge popularity in German speaking countries, a popularity that is not quite the same as it once was, even though it remains Von Weber’s most performed opera.

A naturalistic and romantic character are fundamental to this work, mostly unconvincingly served by Peter Konwitschny in his well-known production. No-one goes to a museum ar art gallery to see an exhibition by Dali compared with Velasquez, nor you go to the opera to compare a Konwitschny production with Zeffirelli. And the last thing you would expect from this German director is a traditional production, a fact well known in Barcelona, ​​after his work with Lohengrin or Don Carlos.

It seems then that Konwitschny does not agree with a romantic conception of Freischütz and he narrates a story, as if it were a tale for children, mostly eliminating any connotations of tragedy, mystery or romanticism, and replacing them with a rather childish narration. What is extremely clear is that Konwitschny cannot resist making himself the true protagonist of his production : his personal touches are somehow inevitable but at the same time more than debatable. The idea of offering the complete ​​dialogue makes more sense in Germany than in Spain obviously, but more objectionable is that fact that Samiel does not speak in German here, but in Catalan – something which was booed by the audience. Similarly, the idea having the choir placed in the pit for the famous Hunter’s Chorus was simultaneously both surprising and negative. But, as a last straw, the character of the supposed Eremit spends the whole opera in the first row of stalls, rising occasionally to wave to Agathe, NS delivering his final words on stage whilw hosting a party, drinks included. Both Samiel and Kaspar join the guests too because after all fairy stories really are just stories and the opera’s supposed plot never really happened..

Musical direction was initially entrusted to Marc Albrecht, who canceled, to be replaced by the Liceu’s own Music director, Michael Boder. I suspect that he had not had much time to prepare this opera, as the result of his performance has been quite disappointing. The famous overture received a very poor reading, based largely on lots of noise, especially in the brass. During the first two acts Boder’s performance felt was rather vulgar and in fact slightly boring. The opera began to take on some more life with the Wolf’s Glen scene but even so, this level of musicianship was not what this opera deserves.

The British tenor Christopher Ventris replaced the promised Peter Seiffert as Max and was well suited to the demands of the role. He did not seem to be especially comfortable however, but he was still a better choice than Canadian Lance Ryan in the second cast, whose voice is too dramatic for Max and so was not very convincing.

Agathe was the Austrian soprano Petra Maria Schnitzer, Mr. Seiffert’s wife. I am tempted to think that it was a pity that she did not cancel too, since her performance was a major disappointment. Although, she has taken on very heavy roles in the past she cannot cope now with the difficulties presented by singing Agathe. Bettina Jensen in the second cast was a much more interesting interpreter, although her top notes are rather shrill. She was at her best in her Act III aria.

Albert Dohmen was an excellent Kaspar. This German bass baritone seems to have been having difficulties with his top notes lately and has recently taken on some pure bass roles, like Gurnemanz or the Comendatore in Don Giovanni. Kaspar is very good role for him and he imparted much sense too into tall the spoken dialogues Lars Woldt was too rough as Kaspar. He is the villain of the opera of course , but more than mere volume is needed to sing this part well.

Ofelia Sala was also an excellent Ännchen on stage. She was rather good as singer too, apart from some serious problems in the high notes. Oddly, Elena de la Merced was also good in the second cast and had similar problems at the top of her range, although not as evident as in Ms. Salas’s case.

Matti Salminen, the so-called Eremit was in the first row of the stalls during the whole opera,. At almost 66 he is still a powerful and excellent bass, although both ends of the tessitura are not quite as brilliant as they were before. Despite that however, it is a luxury to have him in this secondary role. Friedemann Rohling too was a well suited interpreter of the role in the second cast.

In the secondary characters Lauri Vasar was a sonorous Ottokar, veteran Rolf Haunstein was a good Kuno, as was also Manel Esteve Madrid in the part of Killian.

The Liceu was not sold out, and what was particularly surprising was that the attendance for the first cast, was no more than about 75 % of the theatre’s capacity, while in the second cast ticket sales were around 90 %. The fact that the best seats cost 140 and 74 euros for the different casts may well be the reason for this difference of course. At the final bows there were only cheers for Matti Salminen, while Petra Maria Schnitzer had a very cold reception. She was obviously not very happy. As it happens, neither was I.

José Ma. Irurzun