The last time that I visited the Deutsches Staatsoper at the Schiller Theater I enjoyed perhaps the best night of opera of my long life. So today, 20 April, being my late father’s birthday, I was eagerly looking forward to going back there to see his all-time favourite opera, Der Freischütz (The Freeshooter). Oh! How I remember, sixty years ago, his wonderful enacted tales of the frightening Wolf’s Glen scene, and the drama of the forging of the magic bullets…
Well. What can I say? What a dreadful, dreadful disappointment. No Wolf’s Glen. No magic bullets. Some fetishist nonsense with bald witches. The glorious Weber music was still there, finely played by the establishment’s orchestra, but mostly indifferently sung. But otherwise? What did I like? Umm …
The design was nice. The feeling of the woods in Scene 1 was effectively drawn, and the interior scenes were pleasingly simple. But oh! If the ladies of the piece had opened and shut that door ONE MORE TIME I would have screamed. I think someone did. But that’s the director’s fault.
Direction. Opera direction has become farce. Usually we complain because it’s some fellow with ‘concept’. Not this time. Tonight’s production looked as if it had been staged by a 1950s (or do I mean 1850s) amateur high-school drama teacher. Its ingenuousness was horrific. Chorus acting is, at best, ghastly. Tonight took the prize. Actually, the chorus should be sacked en masse. They were half a beat (and sometimes half a tone) off for the first half hour. And the huntsmen’s chorus was an incompetent rigolade of staging and performance. And the … was it choreography? Haha! Hahahahahaha!
I could fill pages with detailed criticisms of every aspect of tonight’s performance, but in the end the knowledgeable Berlin audience did it for me. When the curtain fell, they showed their appreciation (or antipathy) in no uncertain way.
First prize (and cheers), to the one thoroughly excellent performer of the night: Silke Evers as Aennchen. Second prize, the orchestra. Third prize, the poor bugger who had to play the camped-up version of the bloody (oh, yes, literally) Kaspar (Tobias Schabel). Down then to a whisper of applause for the Agathe (Véronique Gens) who produced some beautiful gentle sounds, but fluffed her top note and also sang shiveringly out of tune, and boos for the Max (Michael Koenig).
Why. Why cast an overweight (and he strips off), overaged, grey-bearded, non-acting artist with a weeny tenor voice in this most charismatic of roles? He played Max (if you can call it playing) as a fat depressive and sang it, when you could hear him, the same way.
OK. You’ve gathered that apart from Frln Evers and the scenery, the overture and the orchestra, tonight was for me, especially, given the circumstances, a huge disappointment. So it’s probably best that I don’t spill any more sorrow over this page.
But this is the Berlin Staatsoper, one of the great stages of the world. Where is the quality control? Who is running the ship? And who, goddamit, does the casting?