Der Freischütz (in concert) - LSO / Davis - Barbican Hall, 19 & 21 April 2012
As a music drama, Der Freischütz is problematical, inherently fractured by the interpolated speech sections. In the theatre, the visual element provides some compensatory continuity - it's this basic structural issue as much as the content of the story that encourages contemporary directors to lard the work in Konzept. But in concert, it's almost inevitable that the talky bits come across as mere chat between numbers. The English language narration commissioned here to replace the original German dialogue only magnified that effect, breaking the spell with unfortunate regularity. And so, despite high musical values, these two performances failed to gather any real dramatic momentum.
It's a shame. Taken as a series of numbers, like one of those concerts of operatic arias, there was much to admire. The LSO played with a vigour that complemented Sir Colin Davis's sweeping phrasing and stately pace. The cast was excellent. But it proved impossible to build any tension in the few minutes between each actorly ejaculation. And a story as improbable as Der Freischütz demands that an audience is hypnotised for long enough to suspend disbelief and enter into its world. Otherwise it can (and did) come across as a little bit silly - the pre-recorded thunder and water sound effects of the Wolf's Glen scene provoked titters rather than terror, as did the chorus's supposedly spooky paper megaphones.
Simon O'Neill's piping tenor proved far more suited to the part of Max than the Wagnerian heroes he has played recently, despite his distracting tendency to relish the sounds of words more than their meaning. Christine Brewer might seem an unusually weighty-voiced choice for Agathe, but the very fullness of her sound sat well with Sir Colin's proto-Wagnerian conception. The bloom is not as intact as it once was, but I could overlook a few intonation problems and a touch of wear at the top of the voice.
These performances were effectively a live recording session for a future LSO disc, so perhaps it's not surprising that the cast kept their eyes on the target, with only a couple making a consistent effort to get their noses out of their scores and engage with the audience. Some of Sally Matthews' notes may have lacked focus, but her determination to present Ännchen as a vivacious foil to Agathe came across vividly in her physical presence. And Lars Woldt might have been back home treading the boards of the Wiener Staatsoper, so complete was his immersion in the part of Kaspar.