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Carl Maria von Weber

The Free-Shooter

Der Freischutz - Carl Maria Von Weber
Max - Ernst Kozub
Agathe - Arlene Saunders
Kaspar - Gottlob Frick
Ännchen - Edith Mathis
Ottokar - Tom Krause
Kuno - Toni Blankenheim
Kilian - Franz Grundheber
Hermit - Hans Sotin
Zamiel - Bernard Minetti

It is a litfle hard today to imagine the storm created by the first performance, some 140 years ago, of Weber's romantic opera, Der Freischutz. For it meant—in Germany, at least —the end of the predominance of Italian opera. The leading lights of Germany—Heine, Mendelssohn, Hoffmann, and others—seemed to understand this, and the reign of Spontini and classical tragedy was soon over. The way was really paved for all the later German romantics, and above all for Richard Wagner. For Der Freischutz (which means "The Free-Shooter") is a story of romantic love between commoners, of supernatural evil, with a devil for one of the characters, and a scene in the mysterious Wolf’s Glen. 

Robert Wilson’s rendition of Carl Maria von Weber’s opera Der Freischütz, performed in Baden-Baden, Germany, in 2009,
with costumes by Viktor & Rolf.


(The Free-Shooter)


Opera in three acts by Carl Maria von Weber with libretto in German by Johann Friedrich Kind
based on a story by Johann August Apel


Max, a forester
Caspar, another
Kilian, a rich peasant
Cuno, the head forester
Agathe, his daughter

Aennchen, her cousin

Prince Ottokar
A Hermit

Samiel, the wild huntsman

Time: middle of the 17th century
Place: Bohemia

First performance at Berlin, June 18, 1821



Tenor. A forester, in love with Agathe. Ashamed of his defeat in a shooting contest, he accepts magic bullets from Caspar to win the next test. Caspar plans to sacrifice him to the wild huntsman, Samiel, but Samiel guides the bullet and it fatally wounds Caspar. Created (1821) by Carl Stümer.

Jonas Kaufmann: Weber - Der Freischütz, 'Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen'



Bass. A forester who has sold himself to Samiel, the wild huntsman, and wants to give Max in his place. Gives Max magic bullets and is killed by the last one, guided by Samiel. Created (1821) by Heinrich Blume.

Ivashchenko sings Kaspar's Aria "Der Freischütz"



Tenor. A rich peasant who beats the forester Max in a shooting contest. Created (1821) by Herr Wiedemann.

Franz Grundheber als Kilian im Freischütz 1968


Bass. Head forester. Father of Agathe, who wants to marry Max. Created (1821) by Herr Wauer.



Soprano. Daughter of Cuno, in love with Max. Arias: Und ob die Wolke sie verhülle (‘Even when the clouds hide it’); Wie nahte mir der Schlummer … Leise, leise (‘How could sleep come to me … Softly, softly’). Created (1821) by Caroline Seidler.

Elisabeth Grümmer, "Wie nahte mir der Schlummer", Weber: Der Freischütz (rec. 1955)

Prince Ottokar:


Baritone. Banishes Max from his kingdom for cheating by using magic bullets in a shooting contest, but is persuaded to forgive him. Created (1821) by Herr Rebenstein.

Carl Maria von Weber - Der Freischutz - Act III. Finale 



Spoken. The Wild Huntsman in the Wolf's Glen—a manifestation of the devil—to whom Caspar has sold himself. He guides the bullet which fatally wounds Caspar, thus sparing Max's life. Created (1821) by Herr Hillebrand.




The music, too, is highly romantic, and its essence is contained in the familiar overture, the only portion of the work with which most modem music-lovers can be counted on to be familiar. It is full of drama, of sweeping melodies, and wonderful effects with tremolo strings and a clarinet solo. It is also just about the first operatic overture to make use of whole tunes from the vocal score—especially of the great joyous outcry made by the heroine when her lover comes to her in Act II.


The action of Der Freischutz is carried on almost entirely in spoken dialogue punctuated by set musical numbers to paint the emotional situation at the moment. Thus, the first sounds beard after the curtain goes up are a shot and a shout. A shooting contest, held in an open space before a tavern, has just been won by a peasant named Kilian. A male chorus is sung in his praise, while the professional forester, Max (who is the bero of the tale) sits by disconsolately,for be has been defeated. When a rustic march is played in honor of Kilian, Max can stand it no longer and attacks the man who defeated him.

Cuno, the head forester, comes in and stops the brawl; and it soon becomes clear why Max is so much out of sorts. It seems that there is to be a shoot the next day before the Prince Ottokar. If Max wins (as had been fully expected, for he is a famous shot), he will also win his beloved Agathe, who is Cuno's daughter, and the assured succession to the old man's job. Now, the fact is that the reason Max has shot badly is that his rival for Agathe’s hand, Caspar (the villain of the piece), had invoked the supernatural help of a devil named Samiel. When Caspar, an unpopular brute, suggests that Max may need some magical assistance the next day, Cuno quickly shuts him up. He then proceeds to relate the history of the shooting match. It began with his own great-great-grandfafather, who had saved a man's life with so remarkable a shot at one time that he had been accused of using a “free,” or magic, bullet. A free bullet was one supplied by the devil, and it could not miss. Since then the Princess foresters have bad to prove their competence in contests run without supernatural aid. Kilian adds the important detail that the devils when he grants a man free shots, gives him seven of them. The first six hit whatever the mortal aims at, but the seventh goes wherever the devil directs.

After a short ensemble number, in which everyone comments on the situation, Kilian makes it up with Max, and our hero is left alone to sing his melodious aria, Dutch die Walder, dutch die Auen ("Through the forests, through the meadows"), in which he bewails the loss of his once-carefree life.

It is now pretty dark, and Caspar joins Max, inviting him to several drinks. He sings a rough drinking song (and twice Samiel makes a discreet appearance in the foliage, frightening both Caspar and the audience). Finally, Caspar thrusts his gun into Max's hand and asks mm to shoot at a distant eagle. Miraculously the bird falls to the ground. Caspar explains that this bas been a “free” bullet, and he knows where to get more. Tomorrow night Max must meet him at the mysterious Wolfs Glen. Max knows that this may be a disastrous thing to do; but he is desperate by this time, and a little affected by drink, and he agrees. When he has left, Caspar closes the act with a triumphant aria of revenge, foil of long and difficult scales that modem basses find pretty hard to negotiate.


Scene 1 All the soloists in the first act were men. Weber made up for this in the beginning of the second act, which is populated exclusively by two sopranos. One of them is Agathe, daughter of the head forester and the betrothed of Max. At the moment, Agathe is not too happy about the probable outcome of the shooting match, and her state of mind has not been helped by the framed picture that has mysteriously tumbled off the wall and onto her head. Her cousin, Aennchen, is of a much more cheerful disposition. When the act starts, in Cuno's hunting lodge, she is tacking back the picture on the wall, and Agathe presently joins her in a pretty duet Briefly, in spoken dialogue, they discuss the absence of Max (who is expected shortly), and then Aennchen sings another cheerful ditty on the ever-engrossing subject of boy-meets-girl.

Now Agathe, left alone, has what used to be one of the most famous of soprano arias, Leise, leise, fromme Weise, a prayer for her beloved. At its end she sees Max himself approaching, and she sings a brilliant closing to the aria, expressing her joy.

In the spoken dialogue that follows Max mentions his approaching visit to the Wolf's Glen, and the scene ends as Aennchen joins the two lovers in a trio: the two women try in vain to dissuade Max from visiting so evil a place, while hef for his part, insists upon going.

Scene 2 is the famous scene in the Wolfs Glen. It was originally designed, to scare the living daylights out of its nineteenth-century German audience, for it is filled with such scary things as a skull with a dagger thrust through it, an eerie off-stage chorus of fiends, weird moonlight playing over a scene of desolate rocks and trees, and a devil who appears and disappears mysteriously and threatens in a high, menacing voice. To a modern audience much of this looks like chad's play, yet Weber's score makes it sound remarkably effective.

The scene opens with the villain, Caspar, going through an interesting rigmarole designed to summon the devils Samiel. Caspar has sold himself to the devil completely, and now he begs for three more years of freedom in exchange for delivering Max to him. Musically it is a strange scene. Caspar sings, and the devil speaks; and the bargain they strike is this: Max is to have seven magical bullets, six to go unerringly to whatever mark Max aims at, but the seventh Samiel may direct to Agathe's heart. The devil coldly agrees; but should Caspar fail in seducing Max into the bargain, his own soul will be the forfeit.

Now Max appears on the scene. First he sees a vision of his mother, then one of Agathe, and he is so badly upset by these visions that he readily agrees to do whatever Caspar demands. Caspar thereupon brews a wicked brew. It begins to boil and hiss; huge birds fly about; a boar crashes through the underbrush; a storm rages; shadowy figures utter a strange chant— and eventually the bullets are molded. Together the two men call upon Samid; and as the Demon appears, Caspar falls over in a dead faint, while Max finds, to his terror, that be has grasped the Devil's own hand in the shape of a dead branch! And if all this sounds faintly improbable, please remember that this is a romantic fairy tale. Anything can happen in a fairy tale.


Scene 1 of the last act is given over exclusively to attempts to cheer up our lugubrious heroine, Agathe. She is being dressed for her wedding to Max, but she has various misgivings of a superstitious nature. One of these misgivings—as we shall see in the final scene—is well justified by events. She says she dreamed she was a white dove, that Max fired at her, and that she fell to the ground in her natural form as a maiden. In thе first aria of the scene Agathe prays to heaven for protection, and in the second she relates her dream. It takes two arias by her cheerful cousin, Aennchen, as well as a chorus of bridesmaids, to give Agathe the courage to complete her nuptial preparations.


Scene 2 is introduced by a jolly hunting prelude, followed by a chorus. It is the big day, and Max is to demonstrate to his prince, Ottokar,and to his prospective father-in-law, Cuno, that he is a good enough shot to be worthy of marrying Agathe. The Prince points to a white dove and tells Max to shoot, but just as be takes aim, Agathe appears and calls for him not to shoots for she herself is the white dove! But it is too late. Max fires; Agathe falls, and everyone thinks he has slain his bride. But at the same time the villain Caspar falls. With his dying breath he curses the Demon Samiel—and his soul is consigned to perdition.

Now Agathe revives, and Max explains how he went astray

in dealings with Caspar and Samiel. Everyone pleads that he should be forgiven, but the Prince sternly decides to banish the young forester. Fortunately, a wise old hermit appears and the Prince leaves the final decision up to him. In a long and solemn aria the hermit gives his advice, whicn is to let Max be given a year's probation. If at the end of that time he is again his old virtuous self, let him marry the lovely Agathe. And henceforth, let there be an end to such shooting contests as these.

Everyone agrees that this is a fine idea, and the opera ends on a chorus of jubilation, using one of the most familiar tunes from the famous overture. 

Carl Maria von Weber

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