Weber: Hunter’s Bride (Der Freischütz – The Marksman)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Weber
LABELS: Arthaus Musik
ALBUM TITLE: Hunter’s Bride (Der Freischütz – The Marksman)
WORKS: Der Freischütz
PERFORMER: Franz Grundheber, Benno Schollum, Juliane Banse, Regula Mühlemann, Michael Volle, Michael König, René Pape, Olaf Bär; LSO/Daniel Harding
CATALOGUE NO: 101 692

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Der Freischütz (The Freeshooter) took Europe by storm in 1821 and inspired a host of other composers, especially Wagner. It tells the tale of Max the assistant forester, who makes a deal with the devil to ensure his hunting prowess will win the hand of Agathe, the chief forester’s attractive daughter. Increasingly, producers stage this opera as a creaky relic, merely camping up its mix of rustic and supernatural. Director Jens Neubert emphatically avoids that trap; Hunter’s Bride, an earlier title for the work, seriously seeks to recreate this archetypal Romantic opera for the screen.

Neubert’s film centres on conductor Daniel Harding’s vibrant reading, with a cast of first-rate actor-singers and a delightful young newcomer, soprano Regula Mühlemann, as Ännchen. Neubert exploits advanced camera and recording techniques to integrate music, image and sound effects, often atmospheric but sometimes irritatingly obtrusive. His imagery frequently reflects Caspar David Friedrich’s mystical landscapes, to beautiful effect.

Unfortunately Neubert also seems to feel the old-fashioned compulsion to excuse Romanticism with ideological overlay – rather as early Soviet Russia performed Puccini’s Tosca as the renamed ‘Struggle for the Commune’, ending with the heroine dying to uphold the ideas of Communism. Hence Neubert updates Der Freischütz to the Napoleonic Wars, with the overture noisily representing a battle (as it
did Gettysburg in the early silent film classic Birth of a Nation,) and the ‘death of idealism’. Huntsmen become ducal soldiers with tenor Michael König’s Max represented as a straggle-haired, battle-happy paranoid and baritone Michael Volle’s Caspar appearing as a simian thug. They are unlikely rivals for soprano Juliane Banse’s now aristocratic Agathe, who for Neubert is the real protagonist. The Wolf’s Glen, the scene of terrifying supernatural events, is horribly littered with unburied casualties, but its apparitions are surprisingly unimaginative. Bass René Pape’s Hermit leads something like a popular demonstration, hardly what the music suggests. And then there are puppets…

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But despite some sillinesses this is actually an enterprising Freischütz adaptation, visually striking and with an excellent core performance. This is  well worth an open-minded look.
Michael Scott Rohan