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WEBER: Hunter's Bride (Der Freischütz)

spacer A "film opera" by Jens Neubert. With Banse, Mühlemann; König, Volle, Pape, Grundheber, Bär, Schollum; Rundfunkchor Berlin, London Symphony Orchestra, Harding. Production: Hjorth; Director: Neubert. Arthaus Musik 101 692, 137 mins., subtitled

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Producer/director Jens Neubert speaks of this 2010 film version of Carl Maria von Weber's Freischütz as an attempt to create a new genre — the "film opera." Even if it seems that this designation is a bit of a stretch, Neubert has certainly succeeded in breathing real life and excitement into Weber's supernatural tale through marvelous cinematography and surround sound. The soundtrack offers Daniel Harding conducting the LSO; the cast features superb singing actors who are absolutely believable in their cinematic performances. Neubert sets the film at the time and place of the opera's composition in the early nineteenth century, during the Napoleonic Wars in Germany, when the Saxons fought on the side of the Emperor (who makes a brief cameo appearance in the film). The opera's leading characters of Max and Kaspar are both soldiers in the army of Saxony, camped near the estate of the forest master Kuno, whose daughter Agathe is the object of both men's love. The film was shot in the Dresden area, and much credit must be given to the director of photography, Harald Gunnar Paalgard, for the romantic beauty of the film's mise-en-scène, from the bucolic Saxon countryside to the frighteningly bleak Wolf's Glen scene (here called Wolf's Gorge in the subtitles).

Neubert uses the film medium to create a dream-like atmosphere — in certain scenes, the fine line between dream and reality is poignantly explored — and to give the demonic Wolf's Glen scene and the presence of the Black Huntsman Samiel a vivid and chilling bite.

To have veteran singers such as Franz Grundheber and René Pape in the small roles of Prince Ottokar and the Hermit seems the ultimate in luxury casting, and both deliver strong, committed performances. The desperate, lovestruck Max is beautifully embodied by Michael König, and Michael Volle is brilliantly conflicted as Kaspar, who has sold his soul to the devil after being rejected by Agathe and tries to seduce Max into taking his place. Both deliver powerful and clarion vocal performances. The object of their passion, Agathe, is sung with deep feeling and tonal beauty by soprano Juliane Banse, who, if she appears a bit matronly for the role, sings and acts with great sensitivity to the character's needs. Regula Mühlemann adds a crystalline soprano as Ännchen, though her constant perkiness wears a bit thin.

The film is not without problems. As the overture plays, there are short onscreen scenes that will be incomprehensible to anyone who does not know Der Freischutz very well indeed. The scene opens with a touring puppeteer using puppet versions of Agathe and the Hermit to depict a scene that is alluded to but not played in the opera. The Napoleonic battle scene here involving Kaspar and Max is too small in scale to be really convincing. The puppeteers' cart rolling through the beautiful countryside is a gorgeous image that turns bleak as it moves past dozens of dead French soldiers. Still, these images distract from the overture's glories.

This fine film is well worth a look, particularly for lovers of Weber and German Romantic opera. On the whole, it is beautiful to look at and to hear, with sumptuous design elements and excellent singing. spacer

HENSON KEYS

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Current Issue: December 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 6