Prom 73: Der Freischütz – review

Royal Albert Hall, London

Strictly speaking, this was Le Freyschütz, and not Weber's history-making opera as we usually hear it. John Eliot Gardiner conducted his soloists, chorus and the period instruments of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in the French-language version of the score that Berlioz arranged for performances at the Paris Opéra in 1841. Speech was not allowed on stage at the Opéra, while dancing was considered de rigueur in every performance, so Berlioz was commissioned to compose sung recitatives to replace the stretches of spoken dialogue between the musical numbers in Weber's original, and to manufacture a ballet, too, which he did by making an orchestral arrangement of Weber's piano piece Invitation to the Dance.

That arrangement has become the best known of all Weber's works in the concert hall, though the rest of Berlioz's work on Freischütz is really just an historical curiosity now. But earlier this year Gardiner revived it for a run at the Opéra Comique in Paris, and that production formed the basis of this concert performance at the Albert Hall. Vestiges of the original staging – the entrances and exits, a few props and bits of business – were carried over, too, but the transfer from the relatively intimate space of the Opéra Comique, which seats around 1,250, to the Albert Hall, with more than four times the capacity, wasn't entirely convincing.

Voices that would have carried easily in Paris, where the orchestra would have been in the pit, went missing here or were simply overwhelmed, so almost everything other than the incisive contributions of the Monteverdi Choir and the thrilling sounds that Gardiner drew from the orchestra, especially in the Wolf's Glen scene, seemed uninvolving. Listeners to the Radio 3 relay would have heard the soloists more vividly, but then their rather uneven handling of the text might have been spotlighted more. It seemed odd to present the French version of a work and include just two francophone singers in the cast, though one of them, Virginie Pochon as Annette (Aennchen in the original), was the evening's standout performer. Gidon Saks's Gaspard (aka Caspar) also had the personality to get his dramatic points across, but the rest – including Andrew Kennedy as Max, Sophie Karthäuser as Agathe, Samuel Evans as Kilian – all seemed a bit far away.

• This article was amended on 12 September 2011. The original Der Freischutz became Die Freischutz when it appeared on the website. This has been corrected.

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Andrew Clements

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