The revival of Dmitri Tcherniakov’s frustrating Der Freischütz in Munich

GermanyGermany Weber, Der Freischütz: Chorus and Orchestra of Bavarian State Orchestra / Lothar Koenigs (conductor). Bavarian State Opera, Munich 26.11.2021. (ALL)

Golda Schultz (Agatha) and Anna Prohaska (Ännchen) (c) Wilfried Hösl 

Director – Dmitri Tcherniakov
Set design – Elena Zaytseva
Lighting – Gleb Filshtinsky
Video-directors – Gleb Filshtinsky, Dmitri Tcherniakov
Video – Show Consulting Studio
Artistic consultant -Tatjana Wereschtschagina
Dramaturgy – Lukas Leipfinger
Chorus director – Stellario Fagone

Ottokar – Sean Michael Plumb
Max – Pavel Černoch
Agathe – Golda Schultz
Ännchen– Anna Prohaska
Kaspar/Samiel – Tomasz Konieczny
Hermit – Georg Zeppenfeld
Kilian – Milan Siljanov
Kuno – Bálint Szabó

This is a quintessential Dmitri Cherniakov production: the story is set in modern times, the action has been nearly completely rewritten and there is a disturbing presence of violent scenes. As always with this Russian director, while the direction of the actors is done with care and while some scenes can have genuine brilliance, some others, at best, simply do not fit the concept and are just unconvincing.

Bavarian State Opera’s Der Freischütz (c) Wilfried Hösl

In this Der Freischütz, which was premiered last year and reviewed here by Seen and Heard editor Jim Pritchard, there are no semi-fairy tales with good guys, bad guys, and the presence of spirits and the devil. We are told via video subtitles that Max is an ‘ambitious’ employee who works in the company run by the cigar smoking Kuno. Even though Agathe has slammed the door on his father, it seems that Kuno seeks revenge by agreeing to this marriage on the condition that Max shoots an innocent passerby in the street. Please note that this is far worse than marrying your daughter to the best singer but that is another work by another composer. Add to this the fact that even though this rite of passage is a macabre prank, Max descends into madness and actually will kill someone. (Nothing is said however if Kuno finds distraction and solace watching Squid Game’s 456 South Koreans in green jumpsuits.)

The highlight was the Wolf’s Glen scene where a wacky Kaspar really gives Max a very hard time. Next to this, to support the story, we have to put up with a large number of artificial videos with close-ups of the characters and dialogues worthy of the worst soap operas. The scenes between Agathe and Ännchen make little sense and one feels that Tcherniakov is uninterested. While not uninteresting, this ‘concept’ does not work well enough. One leaves the opera house overwhelmed by the incoherent scenes rather from than the brilliance of those that benefit from the reinvention.

The musical level of the assembled cast is generally of high quality. The smaller roles, Bálint Szabó and Sean Michael Plumb, do justice to their characters, Kuno and Ottakar respectively. The presence of Georg Zeppenfeld in the minor role of the Hermit (who of course is not a hermit here) is genuine luxury casting that should be appreciated. Like Don Fernando at the end of Beethoven’s Fidelio, Zeppenfeld has a brief but simply magical part to sing. In the role of Max, Pavel Černoch was rather uncomfortable on this occasion. On the other hand, Tomasz Konieczny impressed with his dark tone, powerful singing and strong acting as Kaspar/Samiel.

The two female roles were cast with strength. Weber did not make it easy for the sopranos to sing the difficult role of Ännchen, but if anyone can do it justice, it must be Anna Prohaska. As Agathe, Golda Schultz knows how to phrase wonderfully, her singing line and her pianissimo high notes being exemplary and the result was genuinely touching. Lothar Koenigs, who often conducted for Bavarian State Opera’s artistic director Serge Dorny’s former Lyon company, finds drama in the work, although there were a few places where a lack of balance betrayed the fact that this was the first night of a revival. He will be back during this season for the a further revival – this time of Tristan und Isolde – and a new production of Capriccio at the July festival.

The health situation in Germany is, once again, a source of concern. This performance was given with a 25% capacity. The traditional Munich Christmas market has been cancelled. All cultural events in Bavaria now require a negative test within the last 24 hours in addition to a vaccination certificate. All eyes are on daily statistics but getting out of this situation will require effort from everyone and, unlike in this opera, there is no magic bullet.

Antoine Lévy-Leboyer

Leave a Comment