United Kingdom Weber, Der Freischütz (semi-staged): Soloists, accentus, Insula Orchestra / Laurence Equilbey (conductor), Barbican Hall, London, 4.11.2019. (CC)
Max — Stanislas de Barbeyrac
Agathe — Johanni van Oostrum
Ännchen — Chiara Skerath
Kaspar — Vladimir Baykov
Hermit, Voice of Samiel — Christian Immler
Kuno — Thorsten Grümbel
Ottokar — Samuel Hasselhorn
Kilian — Anas Séguin
Samiel — Clément Dazin
Spatial installation — Olivier Fredj
Costumes — Siegrid Petit-Imbert
In March this year, I reviewed the full staging of this Die Freischütz at Aix-en-Provence (review). The cast has undergone some changes – and in one case, a change and then back again, as Kaspar was slated to be sung by Steven Humes, but a cancellation meant that Vladimir Baykov re-inhabited the role. The Max in Aix was Thomas Katajala, who seemed to grow into the part as that particular evening went on; here it was the more consistent Stanislas de Barbeyrac.
Shorn of opera stage and video projections, the onus was on the performers to take us into a Gothic netherworld where demons are ever-present. Most disturbing was the danced/mimed Samiel of Clément Dazin, founder of the successful company Le Main de l’Homme. Pretty much ever-present (as, one might posit, the Spirit world is, anyway), his disconcerting way of skirting around singing characters and his manipulations of spheres, both illuminated and non-illuminated – representing the magic bullets – brought a touch of Hallowe’en, while his bodily flexibility was utterly remarkable. Mention of Hallowe’en begs the question do we hear this piece as dark fairytale or legend? One suspects the former in the present instance. For the rest, the staging was restricted to costumes and spatial effects (the choir at one point up in the Balcony).
Using original instruments lends a raw aspect to Weber’s already daring orchestration, something Equilbey and her forces relished, even if the vital horns in the Overture took some time to settle; in contrast, first violins there were preternaturally together. One wonders if this string unanimity was due to the rather odd setup in which the first and fourth desks of the firsts were raised, the remainder floor-bound. The dances had a wonderfully earthy feel, while the gossamer opening to the duet that opens Act II, ‘Scheim, halt fest’, was brilliantly, deftly done. The Wolf’s Glen scene was darkly dramatic. The chorus, Equilbey’s fabulous accentus (which she founded an astonishing 26 years ago) was just as fine as in Aix, each member a soloist in themselves in terms of technique but blended into a magical whole capable of the most exquisite beauty as well as the most extrovert celebration (‘Vittoria!’).
Equilbey’s pacing was finely-honed, enabling the drama to unfold naturally and compellingly. Barbayrac’s Max was a fine, confident assumption, matched in swagger by Baykov’s Kaspar, who gave his all in his song ‘Hier im irrdischen Jammertal’, and who also contributed a finely dark, massive-voiced ‘Schweig! Damit dich niemand warnt’.
Among the ladies, there was an even split with Chiara Skerath’s Ännchen carrying off the laurels in the final analysis. The duet, ‘Scheim, halt fest,’ was a vocal delight as well as the instrumental one referenced earlier. Skerath is a superb comedienne as well as a singer of the purest voice: her facial reactions and slightly exaggerated gestures were utter delight. The Agathe, Johanni van Oostrum, gave everything in her big number in Act II, ‘Wie nahte mir der Schlummer … Leise, leise, fromme Weise’, her cut-glass soprano capable of great expression. It was nice that the two female voices when in imitation were spatially separated on the stage, allowing for the lines to inhabit worlds of their own yet still interact contrapuntally. Joining Skerath for her aria ‘Einst träumte meiner seligen Base’ was the superb violist Adrien La Marca, every inch as eloquent as Skerath.
Talking of orchestral soloists, the cellist Nils Dupont de Dinechin excelled in his contribution to Agathe’s cavatina ‘Und ob die Wolke’ at the opening of the final act. This was surely van Oostrum’s finest moment, expressive and underpinned by beautifully muted shadings from the orchestra.
The smaller roles were well taken, Anas Séguin a strong Kilian, Thorsten Grümbel an assertive Kuno, Samuel Hasselhorn a confident Ottokar. As the ‘Wanderer’ figure of the Hermit, and as the voice of Samiel, Christian Immler was firm-voiced, luxury casting.
Outings of Die Freischütz are far rarer than they should be. It is a luxury to be able to experience it twice in one year, to revel in Weber’s imagination and his ability to conjure up this magical world.