Notes and Editorial Reviews
Studio Production from the Hamburg State Opera, 1968
Sung in German
Max: Ernst Kozub
Kaspar: Gottlob Frick
Kilian: Franz Grundheber
Cuno: Toni Blankenheim
Agathe: Arlene Saunders
Annchen: Edith Mathis
Prince Ottokar: Tom Krause
A Hermit: Hans Sotin
Samiel: Bernhard Minetti
Ballet and Chorus of the Hamburg State Opera
The Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg
Leopold Ludwig, conductor
Gyula Trebitsch, director
arranged for TV by Joachim Hess
Picture format: NTSC 4:3 (Colour)
Sound format: Dolby Digital Mono
Region code: 0 (all)
Menu Languages: English, German,
Subtitle Languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
Running time: 123 mins
* In June and July 1967 the Hamburg opera ensemble toured North America, with visits to the World Exposition in Montreal (Canada) and New York. In addition to six modern works (including Jen?fa and Mathis der Maler) the programme also featured Der Freischütz, which according to Liebermann "was virtually unknown in the United States." In order to avoid any "stylistic hiatus" with the modern operas, the company decided to perform a concert version of Weber's work. The tour concept was an enormous success, with tickets being traded at black market prices.
* In August 1967 the company made the first of 13 recordings for television. Commissioned by NDR, the film and TV company Polyphon made use of original productions from Hamburg State Opera. Director Joachim Hess (opera director at Hamburg State Opera from 1967 to 1972) adapted the stage versions to the requirements of television. Made in January/February 1968, Der Freischütz was the third of the films to be released.
* Rolf Liebermann saw one undeniable benefit in making film versions of opera – despite his fears of giving music lovers a reason not to visit his own theatre: "It is an important and curious sociological experience to reach several million viewers in one go, as opposed to two or three hundred thousand over a period of several years. […] For many people their first contact with the world opera is through the television."
R E V I E W:
This film was made for German television in 1968, at a time when film was just beginning to expand the way in which music is experienced. This was filmed like a movie is filmed, because that gave the best, most dramatic results given the constraints of the time. As film, it has all the virtues of a well made movie. It’s vivid, direct, every angle and frame created to enhance the opera. The way the cameras are used was state of the art, for they veer in and out for close-ups and move across the set, giving an almost tangible sense of depth. This is no point-and-shoot, flat-stage filming, and all the better for being presented in art movie form. Technology makes possible things that would have been beyond the wildest dreams of theatre directors in Weber’s time. Euryanthe, for example, wasn’t performed because its demands were just too great.
Exaggerated acting was once the norm when audiences were sitting in unamplified theatres, often too far from the stage to see clearly. Photographs of early performers show how stylised they could be before close-ups taught people to expect more naturalistic performance. There are a few small vestiges of this tradition in this film – Agathe’s theatrical makeup being a case in point. But this is very much a “new” kind of production because it focuses on the opera as drama, and allows much more subtle nuance to come across. For example, the camera dwells on Max’s face as he silently agonises over his predicament. It highlights details like the entry of Samiel, resplendent in red velvet, his face lit with a sinister glow. Here is a wonderful, multi-dimensional realization of the Wolf’s Glen, whose portrayal is crucial to the whole plot.
The opera begins with that famous long overture. Instead of shooting the film against an unmoving curtain, the producers of this film seized on the idea of showing a 19th century toy theatre backdrop. It’s a great idea because it reminds us that this opera is very much of its time and place. The hokey plot was never meant to be realistic or logical. Audiences in Weber’s time were quite prepared to suspend logical judgement, and get into the “spirit” of theatre. Nowadays, because we’re used to vérité in film, we’ve lost that magic in many ways.
Indeed, it is the filming that makes this production worth watching. Performances are good, with Edith Mathis totally stealing the show. She’s an incredibly vivacious and lively Ännchen. Her voice is so pure and fresh, yet she manages nuances that indicate more depth of character – she is after all the “sensible” one in contrast to the rather patchily constructed Agathe. Mathis is superlatively photogenic and animated – the camera “makes love to her” as fashion photographers say. She totally obliterates Arlene Saunders who comes over, alas as more pinched and stale than she would have in traditional stagecraft And that singing! It is no surprise that she was to become an astoundingly good Agathe in her own time.
Also excellent is Gottlob Frick as Kaspar. His voice is so expressive that he can characterize the part neurotic tension. It is after all, more than a comic part because he’s cursed and under demonic pressure. This is important, because in this opera, and in the Romantic mindset, dark forces were dangerous. Like the deep forests in Grimm, the Wolf’s Glen is a symbol of the subconscious and of the irrational. It’s an idea central to the Romantic psyche. At any moment, dark forces can reach out and destroy, as Agathe finds out all too clearly. Frick’s Kaspar is so well defined that he’s engaging and sympathetic, which adds to the impact of the plot. Less so is the ostensible hero, Max. Ernst Kozub doesn’t have the intensity of, say, Peter Schreier. Luckily for him, the camera compensates by focusing on his facial expressions and body language, so even if he’s not singing, he’s communicating. More interesting is Franz Grundheber as Kilian still quite young and showing promise.
Perhaps the weakest part of this production is the orchestra, conducted by Leopold Ludwig. It’s certainly not actually bad but lacks the clean lyricism that’s in the music, and in particular the glorious overture. The choruses are extremely well paced – the high male voices being specially well-balanced and clear.
All in all, this isn’t a first choice Freischütz. However, if you’re interested in opera production, it gives valuable insight into how opera can be enhanced as art movie. And, Edith Mathis! Her singing alone should justify the price of this DVD.
-- Anne Ozorio, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Der Freischütz, J 277 by Carl Maria von Weber
Edith Mathis (Soprano),
Tom Krause (Baritone),
Hans Sotin (Bass),
Franz Grundheber (Baritone),
Toni Blankenheim (Baritone),
Gottlob Frick (Bass),
Ernst Kozub (Tenor),
Arlene Saunders (Soprano)
Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra,
Hamburg State Opera Chorus
Written: 1817-1821; Dresden, Germany
Date of Recording: 1968
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