The conductor is the devil !
Kirill Serebrennikov directs Der Freischütz in Amsterdam (*****)
Author : Jos Hermans
Once upon a time, Der Freischütz was the loud manifestation of the spirit of its time, an opera that was a resounding success in Biedermeier days and became the absolute hit of the bourgeois house concert. The Biedermeier audience not only found the familiar universe in it again, but also gained a solid identity-building boost from it: Der Freischütz became Germany's national opera and could serve as an alternative to the French-Italian opera hegemony.
Der Freischütz is a play about outsiders in conflict with outdated conventions, a play about the struggle between good and evil that only reaches its happy ending through the intervention of an old-fashioned deus ex machina (the hermit). Of course the love happiness of young people should not depend on outdated traditions but could Weber and his librettist Friedrich Kind not have come up with anything else but such moralizing finale? Another sore point of Der Freischütz are the spoken dialogues, typical of the Singspiel, which can sound very clumsy, even from the throats of German performers. And what about the jungle of the forest as a haven for the "demonic forces" ? By now, all the ghosts have fled the forest. Can what Weber foresaw not also be read as the shudder of imminent political and economic reality? Peter Konwitschny (Hamburg, 2001) had transformed the Wolfsschlucht with Brechtian alienation fervor into a forbidden zone into which all the sins and civilizational errors of progress have been poured, a godless environment where everything is still permitted and bourgeois morality banished. Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito (Strasbourg, 2019) transposed that shudder to today's globalized world. Something similar I expected from Kirill Serebrennikov, but the Russian director, no longer plagued with house arrest, allowed himself a more invasive form of freedom.
Because the musical numbers in Der Freischütz are self-contained and connected by clunky binding texts, Serebrennikov chose to restyle the piece with a new plot, consistent with the old plot, without raping the musical dramaturgy in doing so. He does so virtuosically turning the piece into an opera about the opera business with completely new binding texts in English. "Hundreds of professionals come together in the pit, in the wings, on the stage to create something that is very fragile; something extraordinary that exists only in the moment and disappears when the curtain falls. I began to see similarities between the world of Der Freischütz and the world of opera. People who want to make it in opera dedicate their lives to the art form. It is like a monster: it eats up time and energy, and requires many sacrifices. That is why faith, tradition and superstition also play a very important role in opera. It is a way of still trying to control your environment," the director believes.
The new plot is not really a new plot. It's more about artists giving free rein to their fears and frustrations in the wings, during rehearsals, all tied together by The Red One (Odin Lund Biron) , a yankee know-it-all with a red wig and cowboy boots, but ultimately good for three hours of unadulterated entertainment. The jokes about the life of an artist, in which superstition plays a major role, are 70% true, claims the director. Max suffers from self-doubt and stage fright, Agathe is the career-conscious diva, Ännchen the envious debutante. Kaspar started as a singer in the choir and rose to soloist with the support of Samiel, the conductor ! The hermit is a person from the audience, an idea already suggested by Konwitschny. The changed context in which Weber's great songs now reach us, sometimes even broken up with bits of Serebrennikov dialogue, is absolutely amusing. The great thing is that musically it also became a top notch performance. The National Opera had picked itself a perfect cast and a surprisingly young conductor.
Günther Groissbock is an ideal Kaspar with cutting, perfect articulation and sardonic trills. Both his arias, "Hier im ird'schen Jammertal" and "Schweig, schweig-damit dich niemand warnt" are obvious highlights. The second, he sings in compelling eye contact with the conductor, as a serf slave to the master. As he curses Samiel in the finale, so you want to hear him sing Wotan. That will be possible starting next season in Budapest (mupa).
The South African Johanni van Oostrum as Agathe was perfection. I say that in full awareness that performers of this top repertoire for lyric sopranos always have to measure themselves against icons of the past like Elisabeth Grümmer, Gundula Janowitz and Rita Streich and that is a competition that is hard to win. But Van Oostrum succeeds. Both her arias are also obvious highlights. Her diva role is limited to changing her somptuous dresses (costumes: Tatyana Dolmatovskaya), from blue to red in "Leise, leise". "Und ob die Wolke" she sings in a black dress with red scarf.
Ying Fang has the voice and comedic talent for Ännchen, Benjamin Bruns enough tenor power for Max, Michael Wilmering is an acrobatic Killian, James Platt charms with a powerful bass as Kuno. The members of the hunter choir burst out of their suits with cockiness during " Was gleicht wohl of Erden dem Jagervergnügen?". Evgeny Kulagin came up with a nice choreography for it. The chorus was excellent in the Wolfsschlucht, the opening chorus and the finale.
Patrick Hahn, the 26-year-old GMD from Wuppertal, not only stands in front of one of the greatest orchestras, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, he also manages to mold the orchestra with a dynamic-agogical insight that you wouldn't immediately expect from someone like that. While the great overture unfolds with all the major themes of the piece, the video wall shows a filmic trailer of the old plot! "Leise, Leise, fromme Weise" sounded perfect. The solo cello, gave air to the warmest Biedermeier sounds of the evening during "Und ob die Wolke". The Wolfsschlucht scene did not disappoint.
The three Tom Waits songs, taken from The Black Rider and sung by the Red One, don't amount to much musically. Not everyone is a Carl Maria von Weber. Franck Evin sets them apart visually in green neon light for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra.
Rarely have I felt such a positive atmosphere in an opera theater. Every number was met with applause. Amsterdam wanted to be entertained. Standing ovation at the end.
Also to be seen on Operavision starting June 25.