Saturday, February 25, 2012

Der Freischütz

Der Freischütz, Komische Oper in Berlin, February 23 2012

In the Wolf's Glen

Conductor ..... Patrick Lange
Director ..... Calixto Bieito
Set design ..... Rebecca Ringst

Max ... Dmitry Golovnin
Agathe ... Bettina Jensen
Kaspar ... Jens Larsen
Ännchen ... Ariana Strahl
Eremit ... Marko Spehar
Ottokar ... Ipca Ramanovic
Kilian ... Thomas Ebenstein
Kuno ... Hans-Peter Scheidegger

You should see this show for several reasons. First because Rebecca Ringst and Calixto Bieito made the whole theatrical atmosphere for you, so that you are more receptive for what was happening on the stage once the show actually begins. The air is saturated, the dimly lit auditorium looks misty, the bare trees on the stage rising from the piles of yellow/red leaves prepare you to what's coming. Once the lights are off, the first thing that starts moving on the stage was a boar who wandered around, sniffed around the logs and stones, looking for something to eat. As it turned out, that boar was the only animal we were given to see.

The whole production is about the blood-thirstiness and violence in humans. At the beginning, there is a mob of enchanted hunters shooting at a wounded and terrified doe --played by a woman wearing fur and running hopelessly and helplessly, facing the cruel & inexorable death-- then screaming in agony while being skinned.

Calixto is on his philosophical questioning about the human violence -- the mechanisms that drive it at the personal level, and the broader social consequences. The mob of hunters is enthused to prove their manhood. In that environment you are never manly enough, and every individual necessarily feels insecure.  That's where the devilish part enters the equation because the violence becomes the way to attenuate one's own insecurity. Max is a typical character that Bieito loves to study. He's deeply human, even if weak and often despicable.

The killing of the doe (woman in fur) was not the only one here: Agathe is a dove, Ännchen has the piggish ears. Later on the girls chorus will be dressed like rabbits... There is a clear philosophical dichotomy and a question: are the social violence and the violence against animals actually driven by the same instinct; aren't they just two faces of the same coin? Is the one a substitute for another and, as a corollary, shouldn't one of the two be tolerated for the benefit of the other?

The entire action takes place in the woods. It's fall, it's cold, it's misty. Just a few bare trees in the beginning will become a dense forest after many timbers vertically descend on the stage. In the third act, the trees as fallen. Since this happen after the Wolf's Glen scene in which Max committed a crime, the position of the trees can be interpreted as Max: I believe Bieito and Rebecca liked Max the way he was before the end of the 2nd act and then when his all ground principles were gone, all the trees fell on the ground too.

As for the crime, he [Max] was accomplice to Caspar. In this production the Wolf's Glen scene happens in the same forest among several flashlights, with Caspar coming with two captives (a couple). He kills the bride (a dove -- remember, there is always a parallel between animals and humans!) and takes 7 magic bullets from her insides. In that gory scene Max participated after the bride was killed. All the while the groom was tied and left to watch everything what was happening to his bride. In the end he was shot too. I liked the subtle moment during the scene of extraction of the bullets. Max was still torn and tormented by the doubt. Gaspar seized that moment and then forced Max to nose dive into the killed bride's body: "You don't play with the evil!"

The finale is also interesting as the role of the hermit was nicely modified. The hermit was trying to remind the mob of their Christian values and consider pardoning Max, and the mob --lead by Ottokar-- responded positively but with mockery, and then shot Max.
In the third act Max is naked -- he's not civilized anymore; he's a creature that acts both as a ghost (who talks to Agatha) and a real man (who eventually dies).

In the end one necessarily is faced with question: if the social violence is generated by the emotional insecurity of individuals, how do you handle it?! Is the Christian message the only possible, or that violence should be channeled in some other way?!...

The singers who performed this 5th show of this production are the members of the second cast and while all of them were fine, no one was really great. Dmitry Golovnin had the hardest job in this show and he sang very well, although Jens Larsen --his huge voice and his remarkable scenic presence-- remains for me the symbol of the Komische Oper ensemble.
The Komische chorus was magnificent as ever, and Patrick Lange made the evening particularly enjoyable. I was cringing during Rusalka in November (will blog about that soon) when he was constantly pushing the orchestra to go loud, and I feared he would make this Freischütz difficult on the singers and then obviously on all of us too. Not at all! He was as subtle as he was in his superb conducting of Die Meistersinger. Bravo!
 I started this post suggesting that this show is worth seeing for several different reasons. One is the theatrical side of the show. Another is its high musical performance. Finally, if you like the romantic operas this shows makes it vividly clear why von Weber is considered to be the father of the modern German opera. Wagner never hided that von Weber was his greatest inspiration. It is full-fledged theater that with Bieito's fingers  becomes the genuine gesamtkunstwerk.

I forgot my camera last night.

Production photos [©Komische Oper]:

and the trailer:


  1. It`s a performance only for Bieito fans. Brutality, sexuality and a lot of blood. Nothing more. Not worth seeing for others.

  2. Brutality maybe -- but was it to propose brutality or to denounce it? Did you see the way the hunters kill the animals for fun?

    "Sexuality" -- where?
    "Lot of blood" -- where?

    Nothing more???
    You saw it and really didn't understand anything?

    1. I think you are used to see an opera directed by Bieito. I am not. And it´s my first and my last bieito "experience". I don´t want to see opera directed like that.