Opera Profile: Carl Maria von Weber’s ‘Der Freischütz’

By David Salazar

Carl Maria von Weber wrote a number of operas, but only a select few have made it into the books of posterity. Shining brightest above these is “Der Freischütz,” the opera that had such a massive effect on the young Richard Wagner.

The opera had its premiere on June 18, 1821, and has had a mixed life in the repertoire. While it certainly hasn’t been kicked to the curb like other operas, it hasn’t become as renowned an opera outside of the German canon as other works have.

Brief Plot Summary

Max, who is set to become the successor to head forester Cuno loses a target shooting contest to Kilian, who is proclaimed “King of marksmen.” Max, who has bad luck, gets convinced by Caspar to use seven magic bullets. Caspar is looking to get three more years of grace by having Max shoot in his place. Caspar has already sold his soul to the devil. Using the bullets, Max shoots an eagle soaring at a great height and the two move on to the terrible Wolf’s Glen to cast the magic bullets.

Agathe, who loves Max, awaits him with terrible foreboding. Max tells her of his loss but then explains that he has killed a deer and will bring it to the Wolf’s Glen. Once he arrives there, he sees a spirit of his mother urging him to give up the project. But then the Black Huntsman Samiel, who is helping Caspar, conjures up an image of Agathe drowning herself upon hearing of Max’s failure. He heads into the Glen and casts the bullets.

Agathe continues with her ill omens. A box with her bridal wreath appears, but she finds a funeral wreath instead.

Max uses two bullets while Caspar has used three. Max asks to use Caspar’s final one for the shooting contest but Caspar refuses. Max’s final bullet becomes the seventh and is thus controlled by the evil one.

Max is urged to shoot a dove by Prince Ottokar. As he takes aim, Samiel guides the bullet and causes Max to shoot Agathe. She is protected by her bridal wreath and the bullet instead hits Caspar. Caspar’s corpse is thrown into the Glen and orders for Max’s banishment are presented. But a hermit appears in their midst and intercedes on Max’s behalf, explaining his mistakes and asking for a year of probation – if Max lives a faultless life, then he can be forgiven and allowed to marry Agathe. The Prince grants as much to Max and all ends in joy.

Famous Musical Excerpts

The opera’s overture is indisputably its most famed musical section. And alongside it is the Huntsmen’s Chorus from the third act, which often gets a concert performance outside the context of the opera.

Famous Interpreters

Some of the great sopranos have appeared on high profile recordings of this opera, including Birgit Nilsson, Gundula Janowitz, Hildegard Behrens, Karita Mattila, and Christine Lewis among others. Elisabeth Grümmer and Rita Streich each appeared on two recordings together and made another one apart.

Among the men that really dominated the opera were René Kollo, Francisco Araiza, Hans Hopf, Nicolai Gedda, Simon O’Neill and Peter Seiffert, among others.

Carlos Kleiber is among the recognized conductors to interpret the opera, but Sir Colin Davis made two recordings of the work during his career and Wilhelm Furtwängler set the opera to record before anyone else.

Watch and Listen

As noted Carlos Kleiber’s interpretation is among the most renowned. So below is his famous recording.


Opera Wiki