Friday, 6 October 2017

Staatsoper Hamburg: Der Freischütz

1 October 2017

There has been something of a flurry of new Freischütz stagings in my adopted corner of Germany over the last few years, with recent new productions in Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig. Of these I only saw the latter, earlier this year, but I can now add the 1999 Hamburg staging by Leipzig’s former Intendant, Peter Konwitschny, to the list—a list whose UK section includes only concert performances.  

(l. to r.) Ännchen. Agathe and viola-playing Samiel in Peter Konwitschny's Hamburg Freischütz (Photo © Jörn Kipping)

Now something of a classic (the next performance after the matinée I attended was the 50th in the house), Konwitschny’s staging is getting now getting its final run at this address. I’m very glad to have seen it, for it’s a characteristically intelligent, questing and mischievous, iconoclastic affair.

Max’s insecurities are the basis of the whole plot, but are too easily explained away as acceptable in traditional world of thrusting horn-calls and the casual killing of innocent beasts. Not here, though, where the production, at least as seen on this revival, exposes and almost mocks his weakness. He is unsure and jittery throughout, memorably harangued by a confrontational group of motley stage musicians in the opening scene; too easily led astray; more than ever, one feels, undeserving of his last-minute reprieve.

(click to enlarge)
The focus, emotional and dramatic, is put squarely onto Agathe, played serenely here by the terrific Iulia Maria Dan, and sung in a voice that offers exciting hints of the dramatic through its velvety lyric surface—this member of the Hamburg ensemble is definitely a name to watch.

The character seems better than the situation she finds herself in, not least because Konwitschny, in a characteristic fourth wall-breaking touch, reveals the Hermit (a resonant Tigran Martirossian) as a suave audience member watching her, with a mixture of paternal concern and infatuation, from the front row of the stalls. 

The opera itself, in as much as it exists here as a self-contained work, is shown as coming to a close before the Hermit’s final intervention, at which point a puzzled stage manager tries to work out what’s going on before all the cast and chorus come back onto the stage for a celebratory glass of bubbly.

The primary feature of Gabriele Koerbl’s set is a elevator door, stage right, the indicator lights above which hint at mysterious ascents and descents, including, for the Wolf’s Glen, to the realm of Samiel. (S)he is represented in that scene by a suave Otto Katzameier, but turns up as a slinky viola-playing she-devil (Naomi Seiler) in Ännchen’s ‘Einst träumte meine sel’gen Base’—a touch that was strangely reminiscent of the violin-playing ‘angel’ at the close of Christoph Marthaler’s Lulu here earlier in the year.

Katharina Konradi’s sparky, mischievous Ännchen was excellent here as throughout, and the four Bridesmaid’s deserve a special mention, too, each minutely characterised as they presented their song as a nervous series of individual performances.

The Wolf's Glen scene is itself brilliantly realised, too, Samiel’s voice resonating through speakers as Caspar manufactures the magic bullets above a television, with moral support from malfunctioning mechanical owl. Whether deliberately or not, the scene also became reminiscent of Mime cooking up his broth for Siegfried, as seen at least in many recent stagings, meaning that I heard forest murmurings in Weber’s score that I’d not really noticed before. Malfunctioning, sinister technology is present throughout, even in the interval, where the theatre's foyers are filled with the continued eerie tick tock that brings the second act to a disquieting conclusion.

As a repertoire revival there were some rough edges musically here and there, but conductor Christof Prick paced the performance well. Burkhard Fritz seemed to be having a bit of an off day as Max, too, but his underpowered vocal performance was arguably of a piece with Konwitschny’s characterisation of the role—a characterisation that, along with its corollary in the elevation of Agathe, was central to the director’s compelling rethinking of the whole piece.

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