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Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Der Freischütz (1817-21)
Ottokar – Michael Kraus (bass)
Kuno/Samiel’s voice – Frank van Hove (baritone)
Agathe – Julia Kleiter (soprano)
Ännchen – Eva Liebau (soprano)
Kaspar – Günther Groissböck (bass-baritone)
Max – Michael König (tenor)
Hermit – Stephen Milling (bass)
Kilian – Till von Orlowsky (tenor)
Coro e orchestra del Teatro alla Scala/Myung-Whun Chung
Stage direction by Matthias Hartmann
rec. live, 13 & 17 October 2017, Teatro alla Scala, Milan
NAXOS DVD 2.110597 [135 mins]

It is a treat to have a number of performances of Der Freischütz recently, with Insula Orchestra in both Aix and London. Here is the relatively recent La Scala production by Matthias Hartmann, which seems to want to mix traditional dress (albeit occasionally exaggerated to a ridiculous level with Ännchen’s bow on top of her head) with more modernist surroundings. Glowing tubes represent buildings, including a church in the final act, a feint also recently encountered in the Royal Opera Don Pasquale and certainly not limited to these two productions - but it remains insubstantial and unsatisfactory wherever it is, especially given the cognitive dissonance between staging and costumes. Only the evocation of Samiel and the forging of the bullets contains a traditional amount of on-stage real fire.

However, we have the music, and Chung’s account of the Overture is a cracking one, the horns in particular a delight, the lyrical quartet well balanced, the fanfares later strong. The chorus, so important in this piece, is excellent, and in the opera’s opening scenes Chung establishes a nicely German-rustic atmosphere while the final Act’s lusty hunting chorus features superb, pinpoint horn/chorus ensemble.

Of the main roles, there is much to celebrate vocally, not least in Julia Kleiter’s shining Agathe (a fabulous “Leise, leise” and radiant, fervently-felt “Und ob die Wolke”), with Eva Liebau’s Ännchen a good foil. The strong interaction between the two illuminates the action on several occasions, perhaps most notably the first panel of the final Act.

But it is Günther Groissböck’s Kaspar that is awe-inspiring. Hs strophic “Hier im ird’schen Jammerthal” is magnificent, and It is difficult to take one’s eye off him in the evocation scene, while Frank van Hove’s cavernous replies work perfectly (the excellent von Hove doubles as a strong Kuno, particularly fine in his contributions to the “O diese Sonne” trio). Kaspar’s final moments in the opera are truly powerful, both dramatically and vocally. In comparison, Michael König’s Max needs just a touch more Heldentenorisch glint to the voice, particularly in the final moments of the second Act. 

Till von Orlowsky is a fine Kilian. Michael Krauss’ Ottokar and Stephen Milling’s Hermit offer a somewhat disappointing final panel to the opera however; dramatically, this sags. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy here while we await the Insula Freischütz on DVD/Blu-ray.

Colin Clarke

Previous review (Blu-ray): Simon Thompson

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