Hunter's Bride


Hunter's Bride motion picture version of the Carl Maria von Weber opera Der Freischütz to a libretto by Johann Friedrich Kind. The Weber score is adapted by director Jens Neubert and shot with 35mm film on location in Germany. Stars Franz Grundheber (Prince Ottokar), Benno Schollum (Kuno), Juliane Banse (Agathe), Regula Mühlemann (Ännchen), Michael Volle (Kaspar), Michael König (Max), René Pape (Hermit), Olaf Bär (Kilian), and Thilo Schiemenz (Saxonian Puppetplayer). Also features Anett Löschigk, Pauline Weiss, Johanna Will, Daniela Saegeling, Katrin Adam, Marlene Maucher, Rahel Storch, and Mona Zelt as bridemaids. Daniel Harding conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Simon Halsey conducts the Berlin Radio Choir (Rundfunkchor Berlin). Photography directed by Harald Gunnar Paalgard; audio produced by Torsten Rasch; sound recorded and mixed by Joel Iwatakia; line production by Kaare Storemyr; film edited by Martin Hoffmann; production designed by Per Hjorth; scientific consulting by Matthias Hermann. Produced by Peter Stüber and Jens Neubert. Recorded in German with subtitles in German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Korean. Has several bonus features including a audio commentary by the director. Even though this was made with 35 mm film, it runs at 30fps. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: A

A number of good film operas were produced in the past and shown in movie theaters. But no legacy opera movie survives in good enough shape to take advantage of Blu-ray technology. The first film opera produced during the HDVD era was the Axiom La Bohéme with Anna Netrebko. Hunter's Bride is the third film opera of HDVD quality.

The name Hunter's Bride was used to get away from the dreadful title of Der Freischütz, which is best translated into English as "The Black-Magic Shot" (fired from a musket). Yes, this opera came along during the literary period known throughout Europe as the Romantic Era. Contemporary works were Goethe's Faust (selling soul to Devil for knowledge), Goethe's Erlkönig poem (Erlking kills a child), and in England, the Frankenstein novel (don't play God). I don't think people of that time actually believed in magic, but it was the best symbolism they could come up with deal with the problem of evil. ("Hunter's Bride" was also Weber's first choice of names, but the opera promoter decided that "Freischütz" would have more box-office appeal.)

The development of the concept of the unconscious mind, wherein all good and evil lurks, banished magic in serious literature. And it rendered obsolete the black-magic story of Der Freischütz, which probably explains why the opera is rarely staged these days even though it is filled with gorgeous music. The use of the Hunter's Bride title helps us focus on the love story in the opera rather than the magic.

Still, by now you may at least be curious about the hunter's "black-magic shot." I'll explain this a bit in the  screenviews.  The shape of these images is letterbox, not our normal Blu-ray 9:16 picture. The subtitles are in the black margin below the image.

The film opens with a puppet show about a German legend in which a wise hermit saves an innocent maiden by giving her a wreath of white roses. The puppets look like René Pape, who plays the hermit in the opera, and Juliane Banse, who plays the virtuous maiden Agathe. The puppet theater appears several times in the rest of the show. The clip from which this screenshot is taken states the main theme of the opera from Agathe's viewpoint, whose only desire is to marry the able hunter and forester Max, her fiancé. (The subtitle below says, "Take these roses into your dream.")

Weber set Der Freischütz at the end of the Thirty Years' War (1648). Director Neubert updated his film version to the midst of the Napoleonic wars which were going on while Weber composed the opera (1810 to 1820). Here's the field after a battle in which Max, Agathe's fiancé, was slightly wounded. There are a number of other references in the film to Napoleon, but the plot doesn't deal directly with wars or diplomatic history:

After a march from the battlefield back to his home, Max (Michael König) is challenged to a shooting contest.  As a hunter, Max is an excellent shot. In those days firing a weapon was stressful and even dangerous. Suffering from a case of battle fatigue, Max just fires his weapon into the ground:

Now we meet Agathe's father Kuno, the Head Forester for the Prince and an officer in the militia. He tells Max to be ready the next day to take part in the "Shooting Challenge." If he passes the test, Max wlll become the next Head Forester and will get to marry Agathe to boot! But, as Kuno states here, "If you fail the test, I must deny you the hand of my daughter.":

 Max has lost his nerve. "Misfortune pursues me!" he groans:

Next below we meet the villain Kaspar (Michael Volle). He had asked for Agathe's hand, but she rejected him because she saw he was evil. Kaspar later sold his soul to the Devil, and his time on earth is up in just one more day! Seeing Max's distress about the shooting test coming up, Kaspar hatches a plan. He will deliver Max and Agathe to the Devil in exchange for more time to live. He will convince Max to seek the help of the Devil in making a magic bullet that will go wherever the shooter wishes, no matter how poorly the shot might be fired. (In German lore, this magic bullet is called a "Freischütz.") But the magic bullet will in fact go where the Devil directs, and Kaspar will ask the Devil to use the magic bullet to kill Agathe! The hocus pocus involved in this plan is more complicated than I've explained; but with this background, you can follow the movie. I first watched it cold and got very confused.):

This is Kuno's house:

Here's Kuno's daughter Agathe (Juliane Banse).  (Agathe has a bump on her brow---you'll have to buy the disc to find out why). She is a serious and worthy girl, and she has been warned by a holy hermit that some great calamity threatens:

Meet Agathe's cousin Ännchen (Regula Mühlemann), who lives with Kuno and Agathe. Ännchen ("Annie" in English) is a cheerful and fun-loving type. She knows something is bothering Agathe, but Ännchen is too young to believe anything bad can happen. Here she says to Agathe, "I rather think you've been crying.":

Kasper convinces the weary Max to go that very night to the Wolf's Gorge to meet with the Devil and cast the black-magic bullet. The gorge is a fearsome place where the bodies of criminals and enemy soldiers are dumped. The next three shots are, I think, near-state-of-the-art for today's phantasy films. The voice of the Evil One comes from some galaxy saying, "Here I am.":

Kaspar believes the Devil intends to kill Agathe. But the Devil's actions are really ambiguous. Still, this has to be the threat that the hermit foresaw. Agathe has nightmares. Now it's the morning of the Shooting Challenge and Ännchen tries to cheer up her distraught cousin. I know I should not devote 6 screenshots to this, but I've gone a bit crazy over Regula Mühlemann. Regula had just got out of conservatory when she auditioned for a bit part as bridesmaid. When Neubert saw her he knew he had discovered his Ännchen. Here we see Ännchen's comic aria in which she debunks nightmares. Working from the puppet theater with Agathe on her bed, Ännchen describes how "closer and closer slithered":

"A monster with fiery eyes":

"And rattling chain":

"To the bed in which Agathe slept":

"I mean this cousin, with the chalky nose.":

And what was the monster? Nero, the watchdog.":

Agathe is not amused by her cousin's jokes:

Ännchen gets more serious, "Tears are not becoming to a bride.":

The bridesmaids:

The Probeschuẞ at the palace of Prince Ottokar. Ottokar picks as the target,"Do you see the white dove on that branch?." Max fires and hits the dove. But this shot still belongs to the Devil and the bullet continues:

Agathe is seen falling to the ground:

So what happens to Agathe, Max, and to Kasper? I'll not spoil it. Below you see René Pape as the hermit helping Prince Ottokar sort things out:

You can see from the screenshots how impressive and beautiful the filming of this is. The Weber music is thrilling as performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and well recorded. All the singers look, act, and sound as they should. Kasper has the best male role here, and Michael Volle holds nothing back. And it was fun to discover a new star in Mühlemann. The keepcase package itself is a work of art with a most helpful booklet about the opera and the movie production. There are only a handfull of DVDs of Der Freischütz, most probably worthless. So we are lucky to have this Hunter's Bride version to show us why Der Freischütz was for a long time one of the most popular of the German operas.

We now have another version of Der Freischütz shot at the Dresden Semperoper in 2015 with Christian Thielemann, perhaps the most experienced and able conductor in the world of German orchestra music, leading the Dresden State Orchestra and Chorus in a magnificent performance. But the directing by Axel Köhler of the Dresden performance is vastly different from and inferior to Jens Neubert's beautiful movie.