Der Freischütz (English: The Freeshooter) is an opera in three acts by Carl Maria von Weber to a libretto by Friedrich Kind. It is considered the first important German Romantic opera, especially in its national identity and stark emotionality. Its plot was taken from German folk legend and many of its tunes were inspired by German folk music. Its unearthly portrayal of the supernatural is especially poignant in the famous Wolf's Glen scene. Despite its daring innovations (and some scathing attacks by critics) it quickly became an international success, with some fifty performances in the first 18 months after its June 18, 1821 premiere in Berlin. Among the many artists influenced by Der Freischütz was a young Richard Wagner, who would come to be seen by many as Weber's successor.
A concert piece with its overture and the very popular "Huntmen's Chorus" ("with Princely enjoyment and manly employment ...") is sometimes performed.
The young ranger Max loves Agatha and is to become the successor to Kuno, the head ranger and Agatha's father. But a test of skill in marksmanship is required, the trial to be held the following day.
At a target shooting, Max loses to the young peasant Kilian, who is proclaimed "King of marksmen." (Chorus: "Victory! Long live the master"; the good-naturedly mocking song of Kilian: "Let him gaze on me as king.")
Because Max has had ill luck for several days he easily falls under the influence of Kaspar, who also loves Agatha, and persuades Max to cast seven magic bullets to be used in the contest. Kaspar, whose soul on the morrow is to be forfeited to the devil, hopes to obtain three more years of grace by substituting Max in his place. (Trio: Kuno, Kaspar, Max; chorus: "O the sun, fearsomely it rises.")
Left alone, Max sinks into deep melancholy at the thought of losing Agatha through failure at the shooting contest. (Aria: "Through woods and fields.") Kaspar with weird incantations tries to imbue him with courage. (Song: "Here in this vale of tears.")
He hands Max his gun loaded with a magic bullet, and to his own astonishment Max kills an eagle soaring at a great height. He resolves to go with Kaspar at midnight to the terrible wolf’s gorge to cast the magic bullets in order to win the prize. Kaspar, left alone, triumphs. (Aria: "Silence, let no one warn him.")
Agatha’s chamber. Agatha is filled with sad forebodings. She sings of her meeting with a hermit in the forest, who told her that in some danger which menaced her, she would be protected by her bridal wreath. At the moment when Max shoots the magic bullet, the picture of Agatha’s ancestor hanging against the wall falls to the floor, slightly wounding her. Agatha's cousin and companion Ännchen replaces it. (Duet: "Rogue, hold fast, I will teach you.") Agatha is still more disturbed, but Ännchen endeavours to cheer her with jests. (Arietta: "Comes a pretty boy this path.")
Agatha left alone awaits Max with the news of his success, which she decides to interpret as a favourable omen. (Recitative: "My eyelids droop in slumber"; Prayer: "Low, low, sacred words"; Scene: "All have long since gone to rest"; Aria: "All my pulses beat.")
Max arrives; he acknowledges that he has not been the victor, but explains that he has killed a deer, which he will bring this evening from the wolf’s gorge. Notwithstanding the prayers of Agatha and Ännchen, Max departs. (Trio: "What, oh horror! there in the wolf’s gorge?")
Change of scene: The wolf’s gorge at night. Kaspar calls upon Samiel, the black ranger, for assistance, and prepares the casting of the magic bullets. Max arrives and is warned by the spirit of his mother to abandon the project. Samiel conjures up the shape of Agatha, representing her as drowning herself in despair at Max’s ill success, whereupon he plunges into the gorge and with demoniacal noise the casting of the bullets is begun.
Agatha’s chamber. Agatha in prayer. (Aria: "Through clouds obscure still shines the sun in radiant sky.") Her doubts have returned, owing to a dream of ill omen, but Ännchen again cheers her with laughter and song. (Romance and aria, subsequently added by Weber: "My deceased cousin had a dream.") The bridesmaids arrive with the bridal wreath. (Song: "We wind round thee the bridal wreath.") When Ännchen opens the box, however, she finds within a funeral wreath, which still further increases Agatha’s misgivings. She is somewhat comforted by the memory of the hermit’s promise that she shall be protected by her bridal wreath.
Change of scene: Meeting of the marksmen. Max has discharged six of his bullets successfully and Kaspar is triumphant, knowing that the course of the seventh will be guided by the Evil One.
Change of scene: The prize shooting. Duke Ottokar awaits Max at his tent. (Chorus of foresters: "What excels the pleasures of the chase.") Max is now to shoot a dove. As he takes aim, Samiel, the black huntsman, appears to guide the bullet, and causes Max to fire at Agatha, who is apparently wounded. (Finale: "See, oh see, he shoots his bride.") Her bridal wreath turns the bullet aside and she revives. Kaspar, seeing a holy hermit by her side, realizes that he has failed. Samiel grasps him instead of Max, whereupon Kaspar expires with a curse upon his lips. Duke Ottokar orders the corpse to be thrown into the wolf’s gorge, receives the explanation of Max, and touched by his repentance and the prayers of the hermit ("Who puts on him this dreadful ban"), inflicts upon him but a slight penalty. A year of trial is imposed, the prize shooting abolished and a promise given that at the expiration of the time of probation the duke himself will place the hand of Agatha in that of Max.
Der Freischütz, Peter Schreier, Gundula Janowitz, Edith Mathis, Theo Adam, Bernd Weikl, et al., Carlos Kleiber, cond., Deutsche Grammophon, 1973 (compact disc, 1986).
The Black Rider, a stage musical by Robert Wilson, Tom Waits, and William S. Burroughs based on Der Freischütz.