Freischütz, Der (The Marksman)
  • Carl Maria von Weber. Romantische Oper in three acts. 1820.
  • Libretto by Johann Friedrich Kind, after the Gespensterbuch (Book of Ghosts) of Johann August Apel and Friedrich Laun.
  • First performance at the Schauspielhaus, Berlin, on 18th June 1821.
CHARACTERS
Max, a forester tenor
Kilian, a rich peasant baritone
Cuno, hereditary head forester bass
Caspar, a forester bass
Agathe, Cuno’s daughter soprano
Aennchen, her cousin mezzo-soprano
Samiel, the Black Huntsman speaking part
Prince Otakar baritone
Hermit bass
Four Bridesmaids soprano

Kilian is winning in a shooting competition and the company of peasants mock the young forester Max, who has lost. The following day Max’s performance will determine his marriage to Agathe. The forester Caspar suggests to Max that he have recourse to Samiel, the Black Huntsman, and the powers of evil, against which Cuno, Agathe’s father, is quick to warn him. Max, however, in spite of everything agrees to meet Caspar at midnight in the Wolf’s Glen to seek diabolical help. Caspar’s plan is to find in Max a substitute for himself in Samiel’s power. In a ghostly scene magic bullets are cast, six of which will surely hit their intended mark, while the seventh will go where Samiel wills. At the contest Max has used his magic bullets to good effect, but Prince Otakar proposes that he shoot a white dove that has settled on a bough with his seventh bullet. Agathe, who has entered, cries out. The hermit touches the bough and the bird flies to another tree. Max shoots and Agathe falls down fainting, while Caspar, who had hidden in the tree, is killed, visited in death by a vision of Samiel. Max confesses what has happened and is at first banished and then put on probation for a year, after which he may, if he acquits himself well, marry Agathe.

Der Freischütz is the first great German Romantic opera, including the varied ingredients typical of German Romanticism, the forest, the huntsman, the Devil and magic. The title, literally, if clumsily, the free-shooter, gives a clearer idea of the nature of Max’s actions, since it is the Freikügel (free-bullet) that causes his agreement with Caspar, who demonstrates its efficacy, and his dabbling in evil. The overture contains full statements of thematic material from the opera. Max’s initial failure in shooting is reflected in his Nein! länger trag’ich nicht die Qualen (No! I’ll no longer bear this torture) with the following scena, Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen (Through the woods, through the meadows). Caspar’s coarser character is apparent in his drinking-song Hier im ird’schen Jammerthal (Here in this earthly vale of tears), while the most ghostly and dramatic scene must be that in the Wolf’s Glen, with its sinister apparitions and the solemn casting of the magic bullets. Agathe, in the second act, has a moving recitative and aria in Wie nahte mir der Schlummer (Now sleep comes upon me) and in the third act expresses her misgivings and faith, as she prepares for her wedding, Ob die Wölke (Whether the clouds). The Huntsmen’s Chorus has found a place in varied repertoires, choral and instrumental.