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Theatre / Der Freischütz

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Der Freischütz — literally, "The Free-shooter," i.e., a marksman who uses magic bullets — is an 1821 Singspiel (an opera with spoken sections rather than recitative) by German composer Carl Maria von Weber, to a libretto by Friedrich Kind, based on the tale of the same name from August Apel and Friedrich Laun's Gespensterbuch ("The Book of Specters'", 1810).

The opera is one of the most important works of the German Early Romantic movement (it is often considered the musical equivalent of the paintings of German master Caspar David Friedrich), and soon gained widespread popularity throughout the Germanies, as well as abroad, with productions in England and America within five years of its premiere.

The score is notable for its early use of Leitmotif, including the famous "Samiel diminished seventh" and of Agathe's aria, „Leise, leise, fromme Weise" to characterize the forces of Evil and Good, respectively. It was almost certainly a source of inspiration to the young Richard Wagner, who adored Webernote . Wagner on the other hand was rather scathing in his review of an 1841 reworking of Le Freischutz into a French-style opera by Pacini, for which Hector Berlioz scored recitatives (to replace the spoken passages) and an orchestral version of Weber's Aufforderung zum Tanz ("Invitation to the Dance") for the indispensible ballet number.

A Rock Opera adaptation of Apel's and Laun's tale, entitled The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets, was created through the collaboration of theatre director Robert Wilson, musician Tom Waits, and writer William S. Burroughs in 1990; this version is closer to the original story than Weber's opera.

A number of younger fans have learned of Der Freischütz through the use of its music in the anime Hellsing,note  or possibly through the use of its translated Japanese title for the character Xigbar in Kingdom Hearts.

Tropes appearing in Der Freischütz include:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The ending of the original story by Apel and Laun is rather different from that of the Kind's and Weber's operatic adaptation. The 1990 musical The Black Rider sticks to the original ending.
  • The Cavalier Years: The setting of the action, specifically at the time of the Thirty Years' War.
  • Creepy High-Pitched Voice: The most common way to play Samiel.
  • Deal with the Devil: Made by Caspar; his attempt to wriggle out is the catalyst for the action of the work.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Played straight with Caspar, but averted in that Cuno and the Hermit are both basses. The devil Samiel is a speaking rôle, but his voice is usually rather high-pitched as well.
  • Flower Motifs: The white roses, that symbolize not only Agathe's own purity and goodness, but also the heavenly powers of whom the Hermit is the representative.
  • French Maid: Ännchen is the soubrette of the piece, a rather chaste German analogue to the French Stock Character.
  • Forging Scene: The casting of the Freikugeln.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Anyone going to a place called "The Wolf's Glen" is just asking for trouble.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Seems to have happened, but actually averted. Max is an excellent shot, and aims carefully, but he is using a bullet controlled by the Devil. Fortunately, the devil's power cannot prevail against the powers of Good, and the bullet hits the villain, instead.
  • Karmic Death: Caspar suggests that Samiel use the cursed seventh bullet to kill Agathe. Wanna guess whom it hits instead?
  • Leitmotif: A number of themes recur as emotional markers, though the only true Leitmotif is the famous "Samiel diminished seventh"note , which heralds the devil's arrival.
  • Manly Men Can Hunt: The "Hunter's Chorus" is a bunch of men singing in celebration of hunting.
    To fell the bloody wolf, and the boar
    who greedily roots through the green crops,
    Is joy for a prince, is real man's desire,
    It strengthens your limbs and spices your food.
  • No Song for the Wicked: Samiel is exclusively a speaking role.
  • Numerological Motif: Invoked in the counting down of the magic bullets, and the ominous and repeated phrase, „Sechse treffen — sieben äffen!" ("Six strike true — seven mock you!"), i.e., six of the magic bullets hit whatever the marksman wishes, but the seventh is aimed by the devil.
  • Ominous Owl: A monstrous owl watches over the Wolf’s Glen, and others appear during the incantation.
  • Our Demons Are Different: The devil Samiel in this, though he takes his name from ancient Hebrew sources, is based in character more on the legendary Teutonic "hunting devil" which is probably derived from the god Wôdan / Oðinn and his "wildes Heer" (or "furious host"), which actually appears in the Wolf's Glen scene.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Caspar and Max see quite a few varieties, good and bad, in the Wolf's Glen. Max sees the warning figure of his mother, as she was in her shroud — which Caspar causes to be succeeded by the wraith of Agathe leaping to her death in a torrent. Then, as they cast the magic bullets, they behold the apparitions of 1) a gathering of owls, night-ravens, and other winged creatures, 2) an immense black boar, 3) a mysterious wind, 4) four fiery wheels, 5) The Wild Hunt, 6) a general eruption of specters (as chosen by the stage manager) and an earthquake, and 7) Samiel himself.
  • Our Monsters Are Different: At least according to Wagner, the Wolf's Glen is haunted by monsters of deformed shape, indeterminate between toad, snake, and lizard.
  • Religion is Magic: Or, at least, religion is able to counteract magic.
  • Saintly Church: The holy hermit, who gives Agathe the sacred white roses that (possibly) deflect the cursed seventh bullet, and who suggests probation rather than banishment for Max.
  • Spirit Advisor: In the final scene, Samiel appears to claim Caspar's soul; he is invisible to the rest of the cast, all of whom are on stage at that point.
  • Summoning Ritual: Caspar casts a spell to summon up the devil Samiel.
  • Take That!: In an uncharacteristically snarky move, dramatist and Austrian national bard Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872) wrote a brief parody of the Wolf's Glen scene, which struck him as unduly hamfisted and crude. Subtitled "a romantic opera", Der Wilde Jäger (The Wild Huntsman, 1822) takes some of Der Freischütz's more visceral elements and turns them up to eleven, while also sending up the slapstick theatre that was wildly popular with Viennese audiences at the time. Its only speaking character, Sirocco, expresses himself largely through inarticulate grunts and random cries of "Murder! Death! Poison!" between stage directions calling for frequent "dreadful" thunderclaps as he vainly tries to summon his demonic master and live bulls stampede across the stage. The ending takes it up a notch:
    (Fifty infantrymen enter, load their weapons with live ammunition and take aim at the audience, duly terrifying whoever had not yet been frightened. Note: All exits are to be barricaded beforehand)
    Sirocco: I hereby blaspheme God, curse myself, kill myself, damn myself and everyone and everything!
    (The gallery collapses with a frightful crash; those crushed underneath shriek in terror)
    Sirocco: It is done.
Yes, there have been productions.
  • Tenor Boy: Max
  • Untranslated Title:
    • Because "The Freeshot" just sounds lame.
    • It has often been given a subtitle instead, such as "The Marksman". For instance, Thomas de Quincey's 1823 translation of the original story Der Freischütz by Apel and Laun is entitled The Fatal Marksman.
  • The Wild Hunt: Appears at the casting of the fifth bullet.

Alternative Title(s): Der Freischutz