FCreated in 1821, Weber’s Der Freischütz marks an important stage in the development of opera in the 19th century, a score whose evocation of the archetypal forest of the romantic imagination and its world of magic and superstition will influence generations. of composers in Germany and beyond. But what we now know about the work, and what we usually see in opera, is not quite what Weber and his librettist, Johann Friedrich Kind, originally envisioned.
In the original text, the overture is followed by a scene between Agathe and the mysterious Hermit, in which she tells him about her fiancé Max and receives a bouquet of consecrated flowers that will protect her. Dramatically, it’s a significant scene, and gives much more meaning to the sudden appearance of the Hermit at the end of the opera, which generally seems a bit artificial; the work begins and ends with him. But to Kind’s dismay, Weber’s wife convinced the composer to abandon the encounter altogether and replace another number later in the opera with a spoken monologue. Weber later regretted his decision and ensured that what he called the “prologue” was restored in the printed versions of the libretto.
Some Freischütz stage productions now remedy the omission by including the stage as spoken dialogue, but for this recording René Jacobs, never a half-hearted conductor, went one step further. By creating what he calls his horspiel (radio play) from the opera, it sets Kind’s missing text to music from elsewhere in the score, including the overture, and brings in a Schubert drinking song as a replacement for the missing aria later.
The musical cut-and-paste works well enough, and Jacobs’ performance never lacks energy and atmosphere, with the Friborg Baroque Orchestra’s period instruments, particularly the natural horns, adding a nice threat to the sound world. As a rare thing these days, a studio recording of an opera, Jacobs creates a very plausible piece of audio drama, although there is sometimes a sense that the soloists were chosen as much for their ability to deliver the speech than for their singing; dialogue certainly sounds more natural, less arching, than it often does in Singspiel performances, but the musical performances – led by Maximilian Schmitt as Max, Polina Pasztircsák as Agathe, Yannick Debus as Kilian and Christian Immler as the larger-than-usual role of The Hermit – sometimes seem a little bland, compared to many other versions on disc. Significantly, however, Jacob’s recording is truly sui generis.