An Updated der freischutz

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An Updated der freischutz

Post by lennygoran » Fri Nov 29, 2019 12:49 am

At the Heart of a 19th-Century Opera: Modern Gun Culture

With a new version of Weber’s “Der Freischütz,” Heartbeat Opera has done its latest rethinking of a classic.

Chloe Treat (left) and Louisa Proske (right), the directors of Heartbeat Opera’s updated production of Weber’s “Der Freischütz,” flank Daniel Schlosberg, the music director.Credit...Devin Yalkin for The New York Times

By Zachary Woolfe

Nov. 28, 2019

In a cramped rehearsal room in Manhattan one recent morning, a tenor was pretending to line up with the target at a Texas shooting range. His concentration soon turned to horror, though: The girl he planned to marry had appeared in front of his gun.

When the scene is played in its final form, blood will slowly begin to spread over her shirt-front in a vision of their wedding night — and her murder. Then the overture of Carl Maria von Weber’s “Der Freischütz” (“The Marksman”) will begin.

Intimate, intense and contemporary, the scene aptly represents the mission of the young company Heartbeat Opera: streamline and rearrange canonical works both musically and dramatically, paring them down to their concentrated cores and stripping away centuries of expectations and tradition.

The tenor Casey Candebat plays the opera’s hero, Max — in this staging a representative of masculinity in crisis.Credit...Devin Yalkin for The New York Times

The results, over the past few years, have been bracing — icy vodka shots of opera instead of ladles of cream sauce. “Carmen” was cut down to a tiny cast and gained a jazzy instrumentation; “Fidelio” was set in a modern jail, and the prisoners’ chorus was sung by actual incarcerated people across the Midwest, captured in a poignant film

Premiered in 1821, “Der Freischütz,” which runs Dec. 4-15 at Baruch Performing Arts Center, is a landmark of Romanticism that became something of a national opera in Germany, but is now rarely seen elsewhere. In Heartbeat’s production, the libretto’s creepy Wolf’s Den — where Weber set one of music history’s most evocatively scored scenes — has become Wolf Canyon, an imaginary site in contemporary Texas.

And a fantastical work about the end of the Thirty Years’ War, magic bullets, and winning women with violence has taken on, with remarkably little adaptation necessary, hot-button issues like gun culture, toxic masculinity and the plight of returning soldiers.

“I’m a native Texan,” said Chloe Treat, who directs the production with Louisa Proske. (Ms. Proske and Ethan Heard founded the company). “I didn’t grow up with this opera, but when we sat down and started talking about it, I was like, ‘Oh, I know all these people.’ The translation into American culture was disturbingly easy

The ambitious production comes as Heartbeat’s budget — $40,000 at the start — has expanded to 15 times that. The company now has serious representation, from Opus 3 Artists, and will try to begin touring its work, in the hope of spreading a very modern way of interpreting very old operas. Ms. Treat, Ms. Proske and Daniel Schlosberg, Heartbeat’s co-music director and the arranger of “Der Freischütz,” spoke about their work in an interview at a cafe near rehearsal. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Azumi O E as Samiel in the remade “Der Freischütz.” One of the directors, Chloe Treat, said “the translation into American culture was disturbingly easy.” Credit...Devin Yalkin for The New York Times

PROSKE The door into this for me was the character of Kaspar: a returning veteran, who might have been popular in an alpha way in this town, but who comes back from war and is now displaced and an outcast — not a mustache-twirling villain, but trying to reintegrate into a peacetime society. The hatred and bile toward him is really startling.

And then we looked at the main character, Max, and we’re thinking, wow, it’s such a story of masculinity in crisis. Someone bullied and shamed for not being a real man, not meeting the crazy standard of shooting something to get your job and marry the girl you love.

It’s a very wide range of music. It goes from the raunchy and folksy to anguished to very spooky and supernatural. We thought it would be a good challenge for Dan.

SCHLOSBERG I think of these arrangements as me finding a way to hear the piece in the 21st century. What are the sounds that this story suggests? For “Freischütz,” we’re taking a step forward with the sonic world. Weber is doing all he can to give his audience this wild sonic display, and as we bring our work into this century, we’re incorporating electronics. People won’t know if we stuck faithfully to the score in every bar, but they will know if we stuck faithfully to a dramatic vision and a compelling story. That’s the main guiding principle.

It’s seven players, and I like to take a lot of inspiration from Broadway pit-style writing. I’m playing keyboard half the time, with synth patches. Our flutist is doubling piccolo and alto flute. The clarinetist is playing six instruments: four clarinets, recorder and electric guitar.

“We’ve done very strange things,” Ms. Proske said, “but we haven’t really done a chorus opera.”Credit...Devin Yalkin for The New York Times

PROSKE We’ve done very strange things, but we haven’t really done a chorus opera. When we’ve done “Lucia” or “Carmen,” we’ve actually cut the chorus, and I’ve felt passionately about cutting the chorus, but in this opera the community is a really important part of the story. And we’re now in a place where we could think about hiring nine or 10 people for a chorus.

TREAT There’s something more impactful in being able to subvert the expectations of what we are accustomed to, than just receiving something completely new.

PROSKE That’s a deep tenet for us. We try to make the work in a way that’s deeply surprising and challenging for someone who’s seen 15 versions already, but also in a way that tells a story for someone who’s coming to it new.

SCHLOSBERG I think that’s part of our responsibility as an opera company in this century, to strip away the layers of expectations and elitism that have been attached to this genre. It’s just about encountering the work, face to face.

Der Freischütz

Dec. 4-15 at Baruch Performing Arts Center, Manhattan; ... chutz.html

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