“The marksman (Freischütz) has scored a bull’s eye,” wrote Carl Maria von Weber to his librettist Johann Friedrich Kind in 1821 in the aftermath of the opera’s dazzling premiere. He was to be proved right, because it was not long before Der Freischütz began packing one theatre after another. In fact, following further performances, it even turned into something resembling an acoustic epidemic. Conceived immediately after the Napoleonic wars, this romantic opera about fear of failure, crumbling conventions and woodland enchantment conjures up a fantasy world rich in symbols that offers a range of eerie apparitions that is quite simply overwhelming.
Max loves Agathe, the daughter of the ranger Kuno. In order to be able to marry her he must first pass a difficult shooting trial. But luck seems to have deserted Max of late, he keeps missing the target and fully expects to be a laughing stock before very much longer. In desperation he turns to Kaspar, whom he believes to be his friend. Kaspar lures him into the fearsome Wolf’s Glen at night to cast magic bullets. Six of these bullets will hit any target the marksman chooses, but the seventh will strike an innocent victim. At the shooting contest in front of the assembled foresters, Max unsuspectingly trusts to the accuracy of the seventh bullet. He shoots and Agathe drops to the ground. Miraculously, she is saved and Kaspar dies instead of her. Max confesses to the swindle. He is not expelled from the company but has to undergo another trial year before he can marry Agathe. But after this additional year no shooting trial will be necessary.
“Do not fail to see how, with this sinister main character, I am aided by the circumstance that half the opera is played in the dark,” said Weber, who uses tremendous melodic creativity, a rousing orchestra and motivic references in Der Freischütz to portray the victory over the powers of darkness.