Der Freischütz in Münster

Considering the importance of Der Freischütz in the history of opera, and of romantic art generally, it has received surpisingly few performances outside Germany in recent times. This is probably because, notwithstanding a remarkable score, juxtaposing fluent melodies with striking musical depictions of the supernatural, it is difficult to stage. The current performance was the tenth production of the work I have seen and I have been disappointed by almost all of these. Either they stay too faithful to the original, making the encounters with evil spirits laughable rather than sinister. Or they completely pervert the piece presenting ideas concocted by the director and designer to satisfy their own whims. (See for example my reactions to an awful staging in Mannheim in 2014:

By taking some liberties but connecting to the psychological implications of the story, Venezuelan director Carlos Wagner’s production at Münster was totally convincing. He discounted love between the protagonists Max and Agathe as a motivating factor for their behaviour. Rather, as outsiders yearning to break free from the expectations of the conventional hunting-loving community of which they were part, each sought release by communicating with the world of spirits and magic, thus with the frighteningly dark, sub-conscious side of their own personalities. Nor was this to be a simple fable of struggle between good and evil. Rather these were seen as the extremes of a continuum which exist within all of us. To epitomise the perception, Samiel, alias the Devil, was the same personage as the Hermit, the representative of virtue; and both dimensions were clearly present in the behaviour of the villagers.

The interpretation was complemented visually by the superb designs of Christophe Ouvrard. The supernatural Wolf Glen scene was genuinely bloodcurdling as narrow shafts of light pierced a black, murky background to reveal Max coughing up the magic bullets, the stage revolving round from the bourgeois commonplace home of Agathe. The recurring image of antlers served to remind us of the destructive tendencies of the community. Yet there were also some delightful touches of humour as, for example, when Ännchen becomes a kind of Calamity Jane to show her prowess as a huntress by shooting at beer cans.

Stefan Veselka in the pit underlined the multi-faceted character of the music: charming, tongue-in-cheek melodies for the villagers’ antics; sinister harmonies and chords for the “other world”; energetic lyricism for the efforts of Max and Agathe to find salvation. As the former, Mirko Roschkowski tempered his steely tenor outbursts to reveal vulnerability; as the latter, Sara Rossi Daldoss spun silvery soft high notes suggesting a contemplative nature disturbed by darker forces. As Kaspar, seducing Max to his evil ways, Gregor Dalal impressed with his powerful baritone – surely an Alberich to come.

If some of the smaller roles were not so well filled, and if the brilliance of the staging could not be sustained right to the end, these are minor reservations. The Münster performance was an exemplary realisation of German romantic opera.