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Review: "Der Freischutz" a hit and miss production

Virginia Opera, staging a German opera hardly ever performed in the United States, boldly makes it its own, setting this tale of the supernatural in the first half of the 19th century in America.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 18, 2017

Virginia Opera, staging a German opera hardly ever performed in the United States, boldly makes it its own, setting this tale of the supernatural in the first half of the 19th century in America.

Presented Friday evening in the Carpenter Theatre of the Dominion Arts Center, “Der Freischütz” (“The Magic Marksman”), an opera by German master Carl Maria Von Weber, opens strongly. The Virginia Symphony Orchestra is sharp and dynamic under the baton of Adam Turner, and it ably introduces the foreboding and climaxes to come. As the lights come up, an enormous wondrously lifelike barn is revealed as the setting for an annual shooting competition.

A ranger Max (Corey Bix) and a hunter Kilian (Trevor Neal) are in a fierce competition. Max is consumed by anxiety because if he loses the competition, he may also relinquish the chances for his marriage to Agathe (Kara Shay Thomson). The company bursts into a victory song led by a scene-stealing Kilian who won the round, and there’s even a boot-scooting line dance for a few moments. Other subtle comic touches later also work well, and more would have been welcome.

 

In Act 1, Max is featured and Bix’s vocals are strong. His highest marks come in the most powerful moments where his tone, control and emotion are superior.

Act 2 opens in Cuno’s Lodge, where Agathe, the bride-to-be, has been injured by a picture that has mysteriously fallen from the wall. We do not see the picture fall, or the injury, which is a lost opportunity, and the entire scene falls flat.

The second scene, set in the Wolf’s Glen where a bargain with the devil Samiel will be made, more than makes up for it.

Giant trees, bathed in fog and darkness, usher in the mystery and supernatural promised. Stormy and otherworldly lighting add much, highlighted by towering shadows of Samiel that emphasize his unnaturally long fingers and powers. Jake Gardner, as Samiel, excels, with his disjointed movements and undercurrent of creepy dread. A group of horrific fiend hunters adds to the visual splendor of this standout scene as well.

The first scene of Act 3 brings the most beautiful aria of the night, sung by Agathe, as she ponders her marriage. Thomson’s voice here is pure of tone, widely expressive and gorgeously controlled, unwavering in its climactic moments. The bridesmaids soon appear with delightful ensemble singing that is all too rare in this opera.

 

The final scene features the last round of the shooting competition and has its hits and misses, which sums up the production.

The “hits” are the music of Von Weber, the sets of the barn and the Wolf’s Glen, the acting and singing abilities of Thomson, the charismatic presence of Gardner, and the too-infrequent ensemble singing of the company, which is always on the mark.

The “misses” are the lack of lighting to showcase the integral supernatural elements and the dearth of ensemble singing.

Virginia Opera has served notice that this is an opera with much potential, but not without issues holding it back.

 
 

Contact Andy Garrigue at agarrigue63@gmail.com.