Romantic Opera in three acts (1821)
Carl Maria von Weber
Performance pressure and fear of failure cause Max, an otherwise sure marksman, to suddenly miss. Because his wedding to Agathe and thus also his happiness depends on a single shot in a marksmanship test, he is easily influenced by the suggestions of false friends, who convince him to enter into a diabolical pact: together with the outsider Caspar, in a midnight ritual he casts seven magic bullets, which supposedly never miss their mark… After its world premiere at the Schauspielhaus on Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin in 1821, Carl Maria von Weber rejoiced that his »Freischütz« had »hit the bulls’ eye«, going on to triumphantly tour the opera houses of Europe. His composition combines folk song influences, bugle calls, and a male choir with ethereal tones filled with romantic yearning. Diffuse, eerily shadowy and disjointed, the world Weber conjures is sinister and extremely confined, full of overburdened people and harmonic uncertainties, but it also holds (false?) hope and glimmers of light.
An elderly princely forester wants to name Max the marksman his successor and give him his daughter’s hand in marriage, and the prince is satisfied, but an old law states that an especially difficult test of marksmanship is required. Another evil, debauched marksman Caspar has cast his eye on the girl, but is half lost to the devil. Max, otherwise an excellent shot, is constantly missing his target in the time before the test shot and in despair is finally convinced by Caspar to cast so-called free bullets, where six hit their target without fail, while the seventh belongs to the devil. This last is intended for the poor girl, thus bringing Max to despair and then suicide, but the heavens decide otherwise. At the trial of marksmanship, Agatha indeed falls, but Caspar as well: the latter as the actual victim of the devil, but the former only out of fright. All ends well.
Carl Maria von Weber in a letter to his betrothed, Caroline Brandt, Dresden, March 3, 1817