Notes and Editorial Reviews
TDK presents a DVD release of Weber's masterpiece Der Freischütz in a production by the legendary director Ruth Berghaus. Chorus and orchestra of the Zurich Opera are conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, universally celebrated for the structural transparency of his interpretations, his intellectual penetration and his emotional understanding of both music and opera plot. An all-star cast made this production a highly memorable event, which was hailed by international music critics as a reawakening of this romantic opera by Carl Maria von Weber.
Berghaus created this Freischütz for Zurich Opera in 1993 and its 1999 revival provided an opportunity to recapture a vivid example of her work after her death in 1996. Her
style is typified here, with her emphasis on imagery, sign, gesture and visual contradiction, which she considered more important than narrative. With sets by Hartmut Meyer and costumes by Marie-Louise Strandt, Berghaus' staging eschews the local peasant colour conventionally associated with Weber's opera. Regimented, black-clad villagers people a stage defined by monolithic planes and blocks of colored light emphasize geometric patterns, creating stage pictures that evoke the art of the Russian Constructivists.
This austerity focuses our attention on Weber's use of unique instrumental combinations to create moods and effects. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, aided by the rich acoustic of the Zurich Opera house, paints the score's numerous tonal pictures in glowing colours.
Picture Format: 16:9
Sound Format: PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Running Time: 159 Mins
Booklet Languages: GB, F, D
Recording Date: February 1999
R E V I E W S:
Suddenly it’s raining Der Freischütz DVDs; this is the third one I’ve encountered recently. Musically, at least, it is a great success. The orchestra of the Zurich Opera House is very impressive, playing with vivid color and great panache. Although not as mighty as the symphony orchestras we often hear playing this overture, they need take a back seat to none. Four natural horns are featured; in what I take to be an un-patched live performance, they are glorious, with nary a clam among them. The rest of the orchestra seems to be modern instruments. The cast is very strong: Inga Nielsen was an unequaled Leonore on the Naxos Fidelio, and she is nearly as fine here, even though she is hampered by both conductor and director. Peter Seifert is excellent in the musically and dramatically ungrateful role of Max. Matti Salminen is overwhelming as Kaspar, recalling Gottlob Frick in his prime, with a potent black bass which projects like a thunderclap. Ännchen and Kuno are fine if not exceptional. Killian’s aria is vibrant and forceful, with just the right tone of contempt. Prince Ottokar sings well enough but lacks the commanding presence the role needs; the same may be said of the Hermit. The packaging identifies the Hermit as Robert Holl, but it is clearly László Polgár; who is credited during the final bows. I wish I could say I knew this from hearing his voice, but I had to look at their photographs on the Internet. The chorus is rich in tone and well balanced.
To appreciate all this musical quality, however, one must accept Harnoncourt’s consistently slow tempos, à la Furtwängler in this opera. Only Salminen rebels; his Kaspar goes at a conventional pace. I prefer Der Freischütz rapid, but I am often taken with Harnoncourt’s ideas: many orchestral passages blossom at his tempos, and details are wonderfully pointed up. But eventually I want to yell “Get on with it!” Agathe’s great act II scene and aria is a case in point: The “Leise, leise” section creeps along at an agonizing pace, making Ms. Nielsen sound a bit uncertain at mezzo-forte. This is just what Furtwängler did to Elisabeth Grümmer, who would prove to be the best of all Agathes under Erich Kleiber. Whenever Nielsen gets to open up for a note or two, there and in the trio, her voice proves superb. The same is true for Peter Seifert’s Max; it’s good to hear singers who get even better at the big moments.
James H. North, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Der Freischütz, J 277 by Carl Maria von Weber
Peter Seiffert (Tenor),
Matti Salminen (Bass),
Inga Nielsen (Soprano),
Malin Hartelius (Soprano),
Robert Holl (Bass Baritone)
Zurich Opera Chorus,
Zurich Opera Orchestra
Written: 1817-1821; Dresden, Germany
Date of Recording: 1999
Venue: Zurich Opera House
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