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Mark Elder's handling, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, of this scrumptious, life-enhancing score was thrilling from start to finish, fully attuned to those touches and orchestral nuances that are exclusively and specially Weber's. The overture was driven, then radiated beauty, with sudden pianos, delicious pianissimo strings, subtle use of soft horns, trombones, an exquisite cello link to Adolar's theme and double bass lead into the fugue. It is, to all intents and purposes, more a Wagner than a Beethoven overture (which Freischütz is : listen to it beside the Leonoras). Virtually champing at the bit, Elder gives of his all, and the orchestra responded excitingly, although just missing, I felt, a little of the needed love for the feminine motto partway through the overture (there was plenty in Act III).

Mark Elder. Photo: Hallé Orchestra
Mark Elder. Photo: Hallé Orchestra

The chorus -- female in two parts, then substantially given over (this being a masculine, hunting society) to lower voices, was galvanising. Even more striking was the way Jones uses them, visually, blocking and reblocking them, like shifting cabals (there was always something Hispanic and Inquisitional about them). Not just they but the principals too are forever moving, shuffling, lurching, backwards. A retrogressive world? The most telling instance is when Euryanthe and Adolar edge backwards towards each other in a diminutive, boxed, claustrophobically oppressive, constricted room : numbed emotions, a paradigm of non-communication, which anticipates the whole of the wild, unruly Act III.

This kind of wilderness scene as a fairly obvious metaphor for personal alienation -- we have seen it already in Der Freischütz -- will reappear often in romantic opera, or quasi-opera; not just Tannhäuser, but less known examples like Liszt's St Elizabeth, Erkel's Bank Ban, Moniuszko's Halka, Humperdinck's Königskinder. Jones's special twist is to destroy the happy-ending illusion of recovery : when Schwanewilms's Euryanthe, saved by her loyalty and a lucky plot twist, returns to the society that has abandoned her to her death, she looks, and remains, as if she is the victim of rape. And to all intents and purposes, she is (see below).

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Copyright © 28 July 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK




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