Seattle Opera:  Der Freischütz

Dateline August 9, 1999

I've nearly been sacked by the purveyor of this website!  I have been completely lazy and unproductive in my literary output, but my cultural input has been at its apex.  I was fortunate enough to join Herr Norris at the San Francisco Opera's Ring in June.  As we bid adieu, Norris winged his way to Chicago and I packed my bags for a 3 week trip to Germany and another Ring in Kassel as well as a Le Nozze di Figaro in Giessen.

My relaxation from this magnificent trip induced such a state of torpor, that I have since been unable to lift a finger to write about these and other cultural  excursions.

I cannot remain silent about my most recent headlong dive into the opera repertory.  I was graciously invited to fly to Seattle to see Der Freischütz.  If we hit the rewind button on the video of my life. . . .last year, at the Seattle Tristan und Isolde, I was fortunate to meet two new cyber friends. . . .Randy and his then fiancé Karen.  The two love birds have since wed and are now Mr. and Mrs. Rjmcdgll.  It was at their bidding that I made the trek to Seattle.  Since Der Freischütz is rarely performed in the U.S., I began foaming at the mouth at the prospect of adding another opera to my "life list" of operas (can you tell I am a bird watcher too?).  Add to that the fabulous company of the Mcdgll's. . .it's a winning combination.

We spent the early part of Saturday shopping for CD's in downtown Seattle under threatening skies.  More German romantic opera CD's were purchased for our burgeoning collections of opera CD's (Marschner's Der Vampyr).  It was back to Casa Mcdgll to change for the opera.  The Mcdgll's emerged from their wing of the chateau gowned and coiffed with Karen's daughter in tow (in what I might say was the most eye-popping, head turning dress I've seen since the Academy Award presentation).  Through torrential rain we drove to the Opera House ready for this aural delight.

Max: Gary Lakes
Ilian: Byron Ellis
Cuno:Arthur Woodley
Caspar:Harry Peeters
Ännchen:Ute Selbig
Agathe:Deborah Voigt
Samiel:Gabor Andrasy
Ottokar:Barry Johnson
Hermit:Gabor Andrasy
Conductor:Gerard Schwartz
Stage Director:Dieter Kaegi
Set and Lighting:Neil Peter Jampolis

The unit set was a steeply raked wooden platform with steps on the right and left with the wood flooring carried out onto the stage proper.  The backdrop was heavy ropes with knots at intervals.  There were a minimum of props on the set and there were images projected onto the ropes and behind the ropes to give a great variety of images to this simple set.  The knotted ropes represented the dense forest in which the action took place, but also served to portray the tangled web and conflict between good (piousness) and evil (the Devil as represented by Samiel), religion and sorcery.

The Plot:  Boy loves Girl.  Girl loves Boy.  Boy must "win" Girl in shooting competition.  Boy is not the best shot (nor the brightest bulb on the Christmas Tree).  Boy makes "friend".  Friend takes Boy to get special bullets in the oooooga boooooga portion of the forest.  Friend forges bullets (with the assistance of the Devil).  Six will hit the mark, the seventh is guided to the Devil's target.  Boy shoots Girl and Friend.  Friend dies, Girl lives.  Boy banished for 1 year to learn about piety.  Happy ending ?!?!?!?!?!?

The singing was very good.  Deborah Voigt sang like the goddess that she is.  Easy, unforced and wonderful.  She looked gorgeous on stage, beaming and virginal.  Gowned and corsetted white with flowing golden locks. . .she was a German goddess.

The BIG news in this performance was Uta Selbig!  She had all of the "money" arias. . .the cute sweet, feisty side-kick, "Zazu Pitts" arias.  She was Zerlina/Despina/Susannah. . . .the worldly wise, look for the silver lining friend.  Her arias were straight from Mozart with a more modern German Romantic era twist.  This is a voice to be looking/listening for.  As Herr Mcdgll put it, "She stole the show from Debby".   Gabor Andrasy, a perennial favorite in Seattle, was a fearsome offstage voice of Samiel and a wonderful onstage Hermit.  Although maligned by the local press, Harry Peeters was a convincing, dispicable Caspar.

Mcdgll and I nearly had a fist-fight over Gary Lakes.  I noted that he hit the notes, but that something was missing in Act I.  Lakes' voice was 100% there in Act II.  However, his acting and stage presence were very labored and effortful.   Mcdgll said that it was a "bad tenor" evening.  We went 'round and 'round on this one.   A melee ensued and I lost many spangles, beads and my tiara was knocked akimbo during the discussion.   Don King & Governor Jesse Ventura were called in to referee the discussion and it was unresolved until we went to the "Speight Spout" after the opera.  At that time we were informed that Mr. Lakes was involved in an automobile accident during rehearsals.   Speight attempted to minimize the effects of the head-on collision that Mr. Lakes endured.  Although externally unscathed, it was obvious that Mr. Lakes was singing in some sort of physical discomfort and I wish him a speedy recovery and salute his heroic effort to "save the day".  Thus our discussion was set aside.  I felt that in comparison to other recent German Romanticher tenor singing I had heard, Mr. Lakes was very good (not excellent) and Mcdgll graciously agreed to defer to my judgment (that or get a HUGE black eye and a severe Wedgie).

I loved the staging, except for some unfortunate lighting decisions (no one looks good bathed in green spotlights!  I don't give a rat's behind if it depicts HOPE!).  The use of a motif of white roses for Agathe's piety and virginity juxtaposed against the reds of the back lit image of the devil were effective.  The Devil's presence was always on stage.  Even in the end, when he was defeated, you knew that he would give it another go.  The Wolf's Glen scene was very effective with on-stage dancing ghouls and a flourescent lit chorus of spirit's hands dancing in the background as the Devil guided the casting of the enchanted bullets.  Add some smoke and eerie lighting through the cracks in the stage and it's a truly spooky scene.

Count among the heroes of the evening Gerard Schwarz.  His reading of the score was bright and lively.  The overture had me covered with goosebumps!  This is wonderful music.  The tempi were crisp and direct, but there was still a hint of the voluptuousness of the Romantic era.  ZERO HORN FLUBS.  I was amazed at the deftness of the brass section.  I was fully expecting Alpine yodeling to begin because the effect of the French Horns was much like lush alpenhorns.

Bravo to Speight for bringing another wonderful production to the stage.  I dread the thought of an endless stream of Carmens and Bohemes . . . and relished the opportunity to see something this wonderful.

Speaking of relish:

    Norris' New Favorite Corn and Black Bean Relish (Salad):
    (This is a recipe of dabs and smidgens. . .adjust to your taste.)

    Salad Ingredients:

  • 3-4 ears of fresh white corn, shucked & brushed with olive oil (use the cheap stuff for this)
  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed well (or other beans of your liking. . . .cannelli, garbanzo, kidney or pintos work well.  I like the contrast of the black beans and red peppers)
  • 1-2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded & deveined and then cut into coarse dice
  • 1 small red onion sliced paper thin and then cut into large slivers
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro chopped coarsely
  • Marinade (to taste):

  • fresh ground black pepper
  • kosher salt
  • balsamic vinegar (3-4 Tablespoons)
  • extra virgin olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
Brush the corn lightly with olive oil and roast under the broiler, turning frequently, until a few of the kernels turn brown.  Set aside and allow to cool.  With a very sharp kitchen knife, cut the corn off the cob.  Blend with other ingredients and allow to marinate for a few hours.  This is best served at room temperature.

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