Classical Music Home

The World's Leading Classical Music Group

Email Password  
Not a subscriber yet?
Keyword Search
in
 
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews



 
See latest reviews of other albums...

Chris Mullins
Opera Today, May 2009

On any list of great but seldom-performed operas, Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz must rank high.

Its combination of lush early Romanticism and German folk tale, both grim and gay, doesn’t seem to register outside of its native country. The score mostly lives on in frequent playings by classical radio stations of the magnificent overture. But there is much, much more great music in this score, and any production that manages to draw an audience into the eerie world of the opera deserves respect.

This 1999 staging by Ruth Berghaus has appeared on DVD before, and Arthaus Musik is to be thanked for this re-release. A traditional staging might work, but it would have to be done with remarkable taste. The vaguely Faust-like story centers on a failure of a hunter, Max, who wants to win the hand of Agathe. Kaspar owes his soul to a devil figure, Samiel, but Kaspar hopes to manage his escape by tricking Max into taking his place. To ensnare Max, Kaspar produces magic bullets that can help Max earn Agathe’s respect as a hunter. At the climax, Kaspar thinks he has manipulated Max into shooting Agathe, but instead, he ends up taking the last magic bullet himself.

Berghaus employs some of the familiar tropes of regie-theater, including men in overcoats and fedoras and a stark set of golden-hued floor and walls. The set shifts into various conformations, with a pit appearing at one point, as well as shifting ramps and an opening high up on one wall for Agathe to appear in before the final shot. The audience takes awhile to settle into Barghaus’s vision, and when Max’s first shot with a magic bullet produces a veritable avalanche of black feathers, chuckles are heard. Soon the off-kilter set and stylized movement cohere into a vision of a foreign yet familiar world, one that suits both the folk nature of the tale and the supernatural elements.

An excellent cast gives itself over to Berghaus’s vision. Matti Salminen dominates as Kaspar, his weighty yet never ponderous bass managing to be both avuncular and ominous as necessary. The leads in a tale such as this tend to be anonymous creatures, but both both Peter Seiffert as Max and Inga Nielsen as Agathe find interesting angles, under the direction of Berghaus. Seiffert’s anxious Max appears as an outsider to the mainstream of village life from the start, an early version of the “misunderstood bad boy” James Dean supposedly invented. Although the libretto doesn’t provide much interaction between the two romantic leads—they don’t even appear together until the middle of act two—Nielsen and Seiffert both suggest the torment of their thwarted romance. Although she is done no favors by the close-ups, Nielsen sings youthfully, except for a tendency for extended high notes to lose tone. Malin Hartelius, as Agathe’s friend Ännchen, however, steals her scenes with the heroine, employing a rich, warm mezzo.

The appearance of the Mephistopheles character, Samiel, produces a suitable chill, and the entire Wolf’s Crag scene manages to be, if not exactly scary, disturbingly weird. Berghuas still respects the intimate moments of the opera, such as Agathe’s second act aria, by letting the focus remain on the singer and not introducing distracting stage business.

The excellent sound captures some audience noise, but nothing too detrimental. Nikolaus Harnoncourt has a reputation for idiosyncratic tempos, but his reading here is well-paced and colorful.

To all but those utterly resistant to non-traditional stagings, this Der Freischütz can be considered a DVD classic. Pick it up if you missed it on its first go-round.



Kevin Filipski
Times Square, May 2009

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, his musicians and singers grasp von Weber’s strongly Germanic score.



James H. North
Fanfare, May 2009

The Zurich Opera Orchestra is first-rate. Nielsen is a marvelous Agathe, her great scena a bit strained by Harnoncourt’s glacial tempos (à la Furtwängler), and by the stage director, who has her sitting on a chair behind the stage, visible through an opening in the back wall. Seifert’s Max is, well, Max; there’s not much any tenor can do with this role—he has to sing his first act aria in a hole in the floor. Salminen is a blockbuster Kaspar, every bit as fine as Gottlob Frick in his 1950s prime. Everyone else is very, very good. There is lots of dialogue. The recorded sound is excellent, although DTS 5.1 surround doesn’t add much; the 16:9 video is also fine. Subtitles are available in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Chinese.






Famous Composers Quick Link:
Bach | Beethoven | Chopin | Dowland | Handel | Haydn | Mozart | Glazunov | Schumann | R Strauss | Vivaldi
10:37:16 AM, 28 December 2014
All Naxos Historical, Naxos Classical Archives, Naxos Jazz, Folk and Rock Legends and Naxos Nostalgia titles are not available in the United States and some titles may not be available in Australia and Singapore because these countries have copyright laws that provide or may provide for terms of protection for sound recordings that differ from the rest of the world.
Copyright © 2014 Naxos Digital Services Ltd. All rights reserved.     Terms of Use     Privacy Policy
-212-
Classical Music Home
NOTICE: This site was unavailable for several hours on Saturday, June 25th 2011 due to some unexpected but essential maintenance work. We apologize for any inconvenience.