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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Der Freischütz, The Movie!

Yesterday afternoon I saw the new movie version of Carl Maria von Weber's 'Der Freischütz' in a theater here in the city of Bochum.  It's actually titled 'Hunter's Bride' in the film company's English title choice, even though a literal translation more aptly put would be something akin to 'The Free-shooter'.

Sadly, the film is only playing in select theaters in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and on top of that, not at every movie theater in those places (normally only at more 'art' cinemas).  Therefore, I felt extra privileged that I was even able to see it and quite happy to be able to share my experience of it with an audience that is also located outside of Europe.  Hopefully, the added bit of publicity that it receives in being read by others on the web might encourage the film's producers to release it in other locations around the world.

I was quite interested in seeing this film because this is an original idea from a director (Jens Neubert) who does not have other credits (at least on to his name in the movie-making industry.  Therefore, I thought it would be extra exciting to see how he handled working in a non-stage-oriented genre.  Also, it is only the second film that I know of (besides The Magic Flute, filmed by Kenneth Branagh in 2006) which was intended to marry the genres of hollywood film-making with opera, in a way unlike what the Metropolitan Opera does nowadays (by filming a stage production of an Opera and sending it to movie theaters) but instead actually allowed the opera singers to perform their singing in a set exactly like a regular actor would.  No fancy stage to help the amplification, no wings to walk off into to change costumes or wait for your next cue, and no opportunity to worry about whether or not you're 'in the light' on stage.  There was a whole new set of rules that applied to something of this undertaking, and I was quite beside myself to experience the end result.

And, I am glad to say that things came off quite well.  The singing was very good on the whole.  Though, I must confess that my favorite singers were Juliane Banse (Agathe), Rene Pape (A Hermit) and Regula Muehlemann (Aennchen).  Those three were also the strongest in their acting sensibilities.  Of course it wasn't entirely successful (with some instances of boring acting in close-up shots, simply because contorting the face while singing isn't advised...) but, on the whole, it was really a large step forward in the development of this hopefully next large phase of opera enjoyment.  I have a hunch that once the Met has hooked everyone on going to the movie theater to see operas, that this sort of thing wouldn't be really such a large leap then for those same people to attend.

Now, to the nuts and bolts of the thing.  I was pleased with Michael Koenig's (Max) acting skills on the battlefield at the beginning of the film, as well as his acting in all of the gruesome scenes in the 'Wolf's Den', as that area of the canyon/forest was called, however, I was quite disappointed by his moments with Agathe.  It wasn't apparent that he felt any tenderness towards her, and what little hints of love shone through in his character were quickly covered up by his manic attempts to keep an overwhelming dread and gloom pervading every scene that he played.  On the whole, that was possibly the most disappointing to me; he was quite one-dimensional.  And, truth be told, it is a difficult role to play: Max is a man down-on-his-luck, who has seemingly no other alternatives to the challenge posed to him by his future father-in-law, that in order to win his bride's hand, he must shoot down a bird in only one shot.  And, for someone like Max, who hasn't shot anything that accurately in years, this is quite a trying test.  However, I really think that it would have only strengthened Mr. Koenig's characterization of Max, if we the audience had seen that Agathe was something that he really did not want to lose and that she meant the world to him.  Unfortunately, all the audience received was that Max was a desperate man who would stop at nothing to pass the shooting test.

Switching now to talk about the film as a piece of art and not music, it was quite successful.  It was filmed in Saxony (near Dresden) where von Weber actually was supposed to have composed the work, and the countryside and locations of the film were not only beautiful, they also lent a certain credibility to the story; it helped the audience members believe that in a place like that, something like this could actually happen.  Not only was the 'Wolf's Den' exceedingly creepy naturally, it also was enhanced by the computer graphics to represent the voice of the Devil, or 'Samiel' as he was called in this story.  The house where Agathe and Aennchen lived was also really wonderful; the furniture, the fabrics, the dresses, the decorations...everything was appropriate to the period in which Weber was writing the story, and the outward appearance of two women depending on the honor of their male relatives and soon-to-be-relatives, was increasingly believable based on the world in which they were placed.

As a way of wrapping up without spoiling too much, it ends quite satisfactorily, and saves quite a bit of time by skipping over much of the middle part of the story.  To put it plainly, who could dislike a movie that ends with Rene Pape singing? :)

Therefore, I hope that everyone who is reading gets a chance to see this movie while it's still in a theater near you, and for those of you reading this in America, at least check out the two trailers on the website (which is hyperlinked to the title of this post!) and hope that sometime soon this will be playing at an art theater near you!

As always, Dear Reader, thank you for taking the time to share in my experiences, and I look forward to writing again soon about something else equally exciting!


  1. Wow, this movie sounds cool, wish I could see it! Good job with this thorough review!

  2. Thanks Jessica!- and hopefully you can see it sometime soon in the states if it keeps doing so well over here in Europe! Cross your fingers ;)