The dark tale of the young forester Max who finds himself, unknowingly, in league with the Devil as he attempts to win a shooting contest so as to earn his girlfriend's hand in marriage.
Max is usually the ruling marksman of all the foresters, but today in the tournament he has missed every shot. He is desperate to know what is wrong with him, as tomorrow they compete for the trick shot. Whoever wins that gets to marry Agathe, the head forester’s beautiful daughter. Max and Agathe are already deeply in love, and he would do anything to win tomorrow’s competition, rather than lose her forever.
This is exactly the position that Caspar wanted Max to be in. He has done a deal with Samiel, the Wild Huntsman, to ensure exactly this outcome and now approaches Max with a proposition. He can show Max how to make ‘free bullets’ which will always hit their target. To get Max to trust him, he shows the true power of these bullets, and asks Max to shoot down a golden eagle that is far above them. One shot, and the bird falls at their feet. Max is convinced, and agrees to meet Caspar at midnight by the wolf’s den, fighting his fear of the stories of evil that live there.
Max takes the ‘free bullets’ to the competition, and is instructed to shoot a white dove on a branch. As he takes aim, Agathe jumps out and tries to stop him; she dreamed last night that she was the dove. Unable to stop himself, Max pulls the trigger, and the bullet hits its mark. Agathe falls to the ground, and at the same time, so does Caspar. Agathe is caught by a hermit, and is still alive. Caspar is dead, and Max is forced to reveal the truth about Caspar’s deal with Samiel.
Opera in 3 acts
Sung in German
About 2 hours 10 min + intervals
Kingdom of Bohemia, year 1648, at the end of the Thirty Years' War
At a practice target shooting, the assistant forester Max loses to a young peasant, Kilian, who is proclaimed "King of marksmen" (Chorus: Viktoria! Der Meister soll leben—"Victory! Long live the master"). Kilian sings a good-natured song mocking him (Schaut der Herr mich an als König—"Let him gaze on me as king").
Max is in love with Agathe, daughter of the head forester Cuno, and desires to become Kuno’s successor as head forester. However, a test of skill in marksmanship is required, with the trial to be held the following day.
As Max has had ill luck for several days, he easily falls under the influence of Caspar, who persuades Max to cast seven magic bullets to be used in the contest. Caspar, whose soul is to be sold to the devil the following day, hopes to obtain three more years of grace by substituting Max in his place (Trio of Cuno, Caspar, and Max; chorus: O diese Sonne—"O the sun").
Left alone, Max sinks into a deep melancholy at the thought of losing Agathe by failing the shooting contest (Aria: Durch die Wälder—"Through the woods"). Caspar, with incantations, tries to imbue him with courage (Hier im ird'schen Jammerthal—"Here in this vale of tears").
He hands Max his gun, loaded with a magic bullet—Max kills an eagle soaring at a great height, to his own astonishment. He resolves to go with Caspar at midnight to the terrible Wolf's Glen to cast the magic bullets, which will kill anything the shooter wishes, in order to win the prize. Caspar, left alone, triumphs (Aria: Schweig! damit dich Niemand warnt—"Silence, let no one warn him").
At the moment when Max shoots the magic bullet, a picture of Agathe's ancestor hanging on the wall falls to the floor, slightly wounding her. Agathe's cousin and companion Ännchen replaces it (Duet: Schelm, halt fest!—"Rogue, hold fast!"). Agathe is still more disturbed, but Ännchen endeavours to cheer her with jests (Ännchen: Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen—"Comes a pretty boy this path"). Agathe is filled with sad forebodings, singing of meeting with a hermit in the forest, who told her that in some danger which menaced her, she would be protected by her bridal wreath.
Agathe, left alone, awaits Max with the news of his success, which she interprets as a favourable omen (Recitative and aria: Wie nahte mir der Schlummer…Leise, leise—"How did slumber approach me…Low, low").
Max arrives, acknowledging that while he has not been the victor, he has killed a deer and will bring it this evening from the Wolf's Glen. Notwithstanding the prayers of Agathe and Ännchen, Max departs (Trio: Wie? Was? Entsetzen!—"How? What? Oh, horror!").
The Wolf's Glen at night
Caspar calls upon Samiel, the Black Huntsman, for assistance in preparing the casting of the magic bullets. Max arrives and is warned by the spirit of his mother to abandon the project. Samiel conjures up the shape of Agathe, representing her as drowning herself in despair at Max's ill success, whereupon he plunges into the glen. With demoniacal noise, the casting of the bullets has begun.
Agathe is praying (Aria: Und ob die Wolke sie verhülle—"Through clouds obscure"), her doubts having returned owing to a dream of ill omen. Ännchen again cheers her with laughter and song. (Romance and aria, subsequently added by Weber: Einst träumte meiner sel'gen Base—"My deceased cousin had a dream"). The bridesmaids arrive with the bridal wreath (Song: Wir winden dir den Jungfern-Kranz—"We wind round thee the bridal wreath"), but Ännchen opens the box, she finds within a funeral wreath, further increasing her misgivings. She is somewhat comforted by the memory of the hermit's promise that she will be protected by her bridal wreath.
The meeting of the marksmen
Having split the seven bullets between them, Max has used two and Caspar has used three. Max demands that Caspar give him his last bullet to use in the final shooting contest, but Caspar refuses. As Max leaves, Caspar shoots a fox, thus making Max's bullet the seventh and controlled by the Evil One.
The prize shooting
Prince Ottokar awaits Max at his tent (Chorus of foresters: Was gleicht wohl auf Erden—"What excels the pleasures of the chase"). Max is now to shoot a dove, but as he takes aim, Samiel, the black huntsman, guides the bullet and causes Max to fire at Agathe, who is apparently wounded (Finale: Schaut, o schaut—"See, oh see"). Agathe falls, but her bridal wreath has deflected the bullet, which strikes Caspar. Agathe revives from her faint and Caspar, seeing a holy hermit by her side, realizes that he has failed. Samiel grasps him instead of Max, whereupon Caspar expires with a curse upon his lips. Prince Ottokar orders the corpse to be thrown into the Wolf's Glen, then demands and receives an explanation from Max. In spite of pleas from Cuno, Agathe, peasants, and huntsman, the infuriated Prince pronounces the sentence of banishment. Before this can be carried out, however, the hermit enters into their midst. The Prince acknowledges the holy man, and asks for his counsel. The hermit explains that the combined effects of love for Agathe, and fear of losing her should he fail the shooting trial are what caused Max to stray from a life that was formerly without fault. The hermit goes on to condemn the trial shot, suggests a probationary year as penalty, and asks who among the assembled has looked into their own heart and would be willing to cast the first stone. If Max lives a faultless life, he will gain forgiveness and be permitted to marry Agathe. The Prince commends the hermit for his wisdom, saying a higher power speaks through him. The Prince ends his pronouncement by saying that he himself will place the hand of Agathe in that of Max when the probation is over. The opera ends with the ensemble singing prayers of thanks.
Max – Tenor (spinto)
An assistent forester
Kilian – Baritone/Tenor
A wealthy peasant
Caspar – Bass-baritone (dramatic)
An assistent forester
Cuno – Bass
A hereditary forester
Ännchen – Soprano (soubrette)
Agathe – Soprano (lyric)
Ottokar – Baritone
A sovereign prince
Hermit – Bass
Place of birth: Eutin, Germany (Bishopric of Lübeck)
Place of death: London, England
Carl Maria von Weber was a German composer, conductor, virtuoso pianist, guitarist and critic who was one of the first significant composers of the Romantic era. Best known for his operas, he was a crucial figure in the development of Romantische Oper (Romantic opera).
Throughout his youth, his father, Franz Anton [de], relentlessly moved the family between Hamburg, Salzburg, Freiberg, Augsburg and Vienna. Consequently he studied with many teachers – his father, Johann Peter Heuschkel, Michael Haydn, Giovanni Valesi, Johann Nepomuk Kalcher and Georg Joseph Vogler – under whose supervision he composed four operas, none of which survive complete. He had a modest output of non-operatic music, which includes two symphonies; a bassoon concerto; piano pieces such as Konzertstück in F minor and Invitation to the Dance; and many pieces that featured the clarinet, usually written for the virtuoso clarinetist Heinrich Baermann. His mature operas – Silvana (1810), Abu Hassan (1811), Der Freischütz (1821), Die drei Pintos (comp. 1820–21), Euryanthe (1823), Oberon (1826) – were a major influence on subsequent German composers including Marschner, Meyerbeer, and Wagner; his compositions for piano anticipated those of Chopin and Liszt. His best known work, Der Freischütz, remains among the most significant German operas.
“What love is to man, music is to the arts and to mankind.”
The clarinet was Weber's favourite instrument.
Most prominent operas
Friedrich Kind was a German dramatist and librettist. He is most famous for writing the libretto for Der Freischütz.
2d1, 2, 2, 2 - 4, 2, 3, 0
Der Freischütz premiered in 1821 at the Schauspielhaus Berlin.
Today it is one of the top 40 most performed operas worldwide.
Aria - Schau der Herr mich an als König! (Kilian)
Aria – Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen (Max)
Aria – Schweig, schweig, damit dich niemand warnt (Caspar)
Aria - Kommt ein schlanker Bursch (Ännchen)
Aria - Wie nahte mir der Schlummer... Leise, leise, fromme Weise (Agathe)
Aria – Und ob die Wolke sie verhülle (Agathe)
Aria – Einst träumte meiner sel'gen Base... Trübe Augen (Ännchen)