Rhinegold Photo credit: Julien Benhamou
A gothic curiosity: Cie 14:20's production of Der Freischütz in Paris

Claire Jackson

Review: Der Freischütz

2:20, 23rd October 2019

Der Freischütz – Carl Maria von Weber

Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris

Review by Claire Jackson

 

There is a branch of kinetophobia where sufferers fear people and objects moving in slow motion. It might seem like an unusual thing to find menacing, until you witness Insula Orchestra’s current production of Weber’s Der Freischütz, where Clément Dazin’s protracted liquid mannerisms as Samiel evoke true horror. Dazin’s devil is a voiceless character (vocals provided by Christian Immler); he slithers and slides across the stage, often in the shadows.

Dazin isn’t the only slow-moving character, though; Cie 14:20’s staging layers space and time, so that the back story is often recreated – slowly – in a separate section to the main narrative. The double vignettes have the potential for clunkiness, but this is mitigated by the sparse use of costume (shades of grey throughout) and minimal props, which are limited to the lit balls that represent the magic bullets.

The clarity on stage aids the story-telling – a hunter, Max, must win a shooting trial if he is to marry the head ranger’s daughter, Agatha, and so he takes enchanted bullets from Kaspar, who is seeking a substitute victim having sold his own soul to Samiel. The approach focuses the lens on the sumptuous score, deftly played here by period-instrument ensemble Insula Orchestra.

There were some excellent vocal performances, too: sopranos Johanni van Oostrum and Chiara Skerath (Agatha and Ännchen respectively) are on top form in Act II, which sees Ännchen soothe Agatha over a fallen portrait. (The moving painting, created by videography, is reminiscent of Dawn French’s The Fat Lady in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Tenor Stanislas de Barbeyrac is strong in the melancholic aria ‘Durch die Wälder’, where we long for his reunion with Agatha.

Despite its place as a trail-blazing piece of German Romanticism, Der Freischütz can seem tame when compared to the subsequent works it inspired, particularly those by Wagner. Cie 14:20’s technical wizardry turned the plot into a gothic curiosity, rather than a web of moral dilemma (there was little sense of any interior struggle among any of the characters).

Opinion appeared to be divided over the staging. While my neighbour’s sighs – and departure at the interval – is mere anecdotal evidence, the booing at the curtain call was more conclusive. (The soloists received standing ovations.) POV videos, projections in real time and use of multiple digital screens – all present in this performance – are not leaving the opera house any time soon. And, when treated sensitively, as was the case in this production, the effect can be transformative. If anything, given the pared-back nature of the rest of the set, I would have liked more, not less of these techniques, which enhanced the darkly supernatural aspects of the opera.

Laurence Equilbey and Insula Orchestra give a concert performance of Der Freischütz on 4 November at the Barbican, London: barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2019/event/insula-orchestra-webers-der-freischutz

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