Weber: Der Freischütz

LABELS: Arthaus
WORKS: Der Freischütz
PERFORMER: Bernhard Minetti, Arlene Saunders,Ernst Kozub, Edith Mathis, Gottlob Frick, Hans Sotin, Tom Krause, Franz Grundheber; Hamburg State Opera & Philharmonic State Orchestra/Leopold Ludwig; dir. Joachim Hess (TV production, 1968)
CATALOGUE NO: 101 271 (NTSC system; mono sound; 4:3 picture ratio)
For all Freischütz is the seminal German Romantic opera, its bucolic Bohemian spookery appears to disturb post-war Germans. Existing video versions seem devoted chiefly to trashing it: NVC’s notorious 1981 Wurttemburg production, with everyone moving like disjointed Pinocchios; TDK’s Ruth Berghaus staging, visually sterile and full of meaningless writhing; Arthaus’s Hamburg set, a dribble of random imagery from hotel lifts to sirens and TV sets. It’s a relief, therefore, to have an alternative, however stagey, in this lip-synched film of Hamburg’s 1960s production, brightly recorded with only minor cuts and, despite the black-and-white illustration on the case (and the still photograph on the right!), in glowing colour. It also boasts by far the greatest cast, headed by the under-recorded Ernst Kozub, who was notably sacked as Solti’s Siegfried but here displaying a ringingly secure Heldentenor; and, as his demon-worshipping adversary, a rare video appearance by arguably the century’s greatest German bass, Gottlob Frick, black-toned and capering with melodramatic relish. Edith Mathis is equally fine as Aennchen, Arlene Saunders a sweet-voiced if less exceptional Agathe, and even small roles feature stars like Tom Krause and Franz Grundheber, with Hans Sotin a simply magnificent Hermit. Leopold Ludwig conducts the Hamburg forces with atmospheric brio. Old fashioned and occasionally creaky this may be, all pawky peasantry and stuffed stags’-heads, but it’s essential Weber. Michael Scott Rohan