Komische Oper Berlin:”Der Freischutz”

Berlino, Komische Oper, Stagione Lirica 2011/2012
“DER FREISCHUTZ” (Il franco cacciatore)
Opera romantica in tre atti, libretto di JohannFriedrich Kind, dal Gespensterbuch di Johann August Apel e Friedrich Laun.
Musica di Carl Maria von Weber
Coro e Orchestra della Komische Oper Berlin
Direttore Patrick Lange
Maestro del Coro André Kellinghaus
Regia Calixto Bieito
Scene Rebecca Ringst
Costumi Ingo Krugler
Luci Franck Evin
Nuova produzione Komische Oper Berlin
Berlino, 4 febbraio 2012
The fearsome dark forest is deeply rooted int the German psyche and Weber’s Romantic Opera
about Max the hunter/marksman who gets performance anxiety before the big test to win the girl, and literally goes straight to the Devil is considered by many the first German “national” opera. This story would seem rich material for Callixto Bieito, involving as it does love, blood, fear and Hell, doubly so since the folkloric elements are usually so sentimentally presented.
Bieito starts during the Ouverture. Instead of the usual happy, colorfully dressed peasants we get a scene of war and debauchery in the forest. This establishes Bieitos counterpoint to the beautiful music-the ugly animalistic impulses of people struggling in darkness. Along with the first scene it also shows Max being stripped of dignity and social standing for losing a shooting contest to the young Kilian. Less gratuitous noise from the stage would have enabled the public to better enjoy Chief Conductor Patrick Lange’s nuanced and balanced interpretation, but the foundation of an interpretation was established.
From there Max’s fear and Kaspar’s desperation for a replacement victim for the Devil lead to the heart of darkness, the Wolfschlucht. Bieito has shortened much of the spoken dialogue but manages to create convincing interactions through close physical contact between the characters onstage. Thus Kaspar curls himself over the crouching half naked Max and with just a few words gets him to come to the cursed Wolfschlucht where the magic bullets will be cast. Never an easy moment in Der Freischütz, this works and gives affect.
For the famous Wolfschlucht with it’s wild evocative music, Bieito eschews the often amplified Samiel (the Devil-Dark Hunter) altogether but resorts to another cliche instead-violence to a woman and her genitals, from which Kaspar extracts the magic bullets. Of course there is still shock value, but going back to the infamous MacBeth in Düsseldorf where armies marched out of an huge open vagina, this in an old “new” trick, and one in this case which is more about the director than the scene. Did he just run out of imagination to evoke the heart of darkness in the hearts of men, was he making a statement about the devilish power and abuse of Woman’s sex, or did he decide that the only thing he could do with this silly scene is shock? I suspect it was the last for whatever attempt he made did not really connect to the rest of the opera.
Agathe and her Bridesmaids and friends also first appeared in the forest and their raucous laughter suggests a bit of witchery far more evocative than the usual simpering maidens with flowers in their hair. Agathe too acquires more substance in this context..  Bieito established this on a simple and effective set: a gauzy full backdrop, atmospherically lit from different angles, six or so tall thin movable tilting columns which serve as both forest and abstract background, and various bare trees  The characters enter the woods from far back, usually with a light shining out into the audience, not a new idea but one that really does seek to ‘illuminate’.the audience. Franck Evan’s first rate lighting was an ideal complement to Rebecca Ringst’s fine sets, even more after the Intermission, when the forest and all but three of the columns disappear and a dreamlike sort of sex, chase and conquest scene ensues between Agathe and Max. Agathe sings Und ob die Wolken, at Max’s feet on what looked like a mountaintop with clouds, yes clouds (Wolken) floating by. If it hadn’t been so beautiful it would have been incredibly kitschy.. A very interesting choice, and as with so much else, done with a sure theatrical hand. He knows what he’s doing and he has terrific craftsmanship.Thus the end of the opera raised more questions about Bieito than the opera.
Admittedly the folk-tale ending is hard to put on the stage. Max’s last magic bullet, controlled by the Devil, kills Agathe–but no!–she’s not dead! The wedding garland on her head deflected the bullet, just the mystical Eremit said in Act I, and after some sage advice about the Head Forester selection process Max promises he’ll be a good boy, and everybody is happy.  Instead Bieito has a half naked grunting Max leap in and shoot several people including Agathe. The peasants sing their bits but mostly laugh at the mystic Eremit and the evening ends with the chorus waving their guns in the air and of course Max gets shot. Why not? Opera’s tragic and everybody should die, right?  Bieito works in counterpoint to the music and often in deeper counterpoint to the surface content of the material but there are places where he seems unable to continue his fugue and resorts to stock shock tricks. It makes for a disjointed experience and undermines the powerful things he does have to say about Der Freischütz.
The principal singers looked good and moved well, but the voices were a disappointment. Except for a well sung Ottokar from Günter Papendell, and two nice lines from the Bridesmaids, the singing seldom came up to the level of the orchestra or the promise of Weber’s music. Only soprano Ina Kringelborg managed to sustain an atmosphere for the opening bars of Und ob die Wolken, but pinched piani in the high phrases put an end to that. The Chorus, involved as they were in stage action and unable to entirely cope with Lange’s brisk tempi, were not always coordinated with the pit and the end of the famous Jägerchor was not ideal.