A Singular Berlin Staging of Der Freischütz Fails to Deliver

GermanyGermany Weber, Der Freischütz: Staatskapelle Berlin, Staatsopernchor, Alexander Soddy (conductor), Schiller Theatre, Berlin, 6.10.2015 (JMI)

Berlin State Opera’s Der Freischütz (c) Katrin Ribbe

Weber, Der Freischütz

Direction: Michael Thalhaimer
Sets: Olaf Altmann
Costumes: Katrin Lea Tag
Lighting: Olaf Freese


Max: Nikolai Schukoff
Agathe: Anna Samuil
Kaspar: Falk Struckmann
Ännchen: Anna Prohaska
Ottokar: Alfredo Daza
Hermit: Wilhelm Schwinghammer
Kuno: Victor Von Halem
Kilian: Maximilian Krummen
Samiel: Peter Moltzen

This production, which premiered last January, was poorly received by critics, and with good reason. Michael Thalhaimer has created a rather unusual staging of the Weber masterpiece, one that strays from the libretto, and he cut out much of the dialogue to avoid a huge discrepancy between what you see and what you hear. Not only is part of the libretto missing, the opera is also performed without an intermission.

Mr. Thalhaimer’s dark and pessimistic drama takes place entirely in a tunnel which fills the stage and has a small hole at the back through which the characters appear. Everything is dark, as if it were Max’s nightmare. The costumes are more or less modern and always in very somber tones, except for Agathe in white and Ännchen in yellow. The lighting is an important part of the production, particularly in the scene of the casting of the magic bullets.

In an interview at the time of the premiere, Mr. Thalhaimer mentioned that he had never seen a performance of this opera. That is all too clear. Samiel, the devil personified, has a speaking role but is constantly on stage (beginning with the overture). Even Ännchen appears possessed by the devil. Blood abounds, as Kaspar, Max and Ännchen entertain themselves by smearing their bodies with the blood from the eagle shot in Act I. The production is a fine example of what can be done to turn an opera upside down and at the same time bore an audience.

The musical direction was in the hands of Alexander Soddy, who is often at the Staatsoper; Sebastian Weigle conducted the premiere. Mr. Soddy was somewhat hampered by the production  ̶  it has to be difficult to conduct this score while looking at what is happening on stage. His reading was good overall but too dramatic. The Staatskapelle Berlin was excellent, and the Staatsopernchor also did a fine job, although the staging replaced the chorus of hunters with beer drinkers.

Max’s character was played by Austrian tenor Nikolai Schukoff, who did reasonably well but pushed his voice on more than one occasion. Anna Samuil was good as Agathe, with an appropriate and attractive voice, but her high notes can be tight and at times were simply shouted.

Falk Struckmann as the evil Kaspar had a powerful voice. Anna Prohaska was a strange Ännchen on stage although vocally she was the best of the cast. Her voice is appealing, she sings with gusto and she moves easily on stage.

The Hermit requires a commanding and noble bass, and Wilhelm Schwinghammer’s voice was not powerful enough. I found Alfredo Daza somewhat slight for the character of Prince Ottokar, although there was no problem with his voice reaching the audience. Veteran Victor Von Halem was a pleasing Kuno, and Maximilian Krummen did well in the part of Kilian.

José M. Irurzun

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