The story of Der Freischütz

Set in a mountainous and thickly wooded Bohemian landscape in the 17th century, Der Freischütz tells the tale of Max, a young gamekeeper. Max is in love with Agathe, daughter of the head ranger to Prince Ottokar. To win her hand, an ancient custom requires Max to prove his skill as a marksman on the morning of the wedding by shooting at any object the Prince may choose on the spur of the moment.

Scene from the opera Der Freischutz by Carl Maria von Weber, 1786-1826. Lithograph by Adam et Hostein.

Max has had a long spell of bad luck, and on the day of a shooting competition, loses to Kilian, a peasant. Mocked for his failure, in desperation, Max falls under the influence of Kasper, a cursed gamekeeper who, rejected by Agathe, is embittered by Max. Kasper persuades Max to call upon the dark hunter – Zamiel (the devil) to cast seven enchanted, unerring bullets. Six of the seven bullets are subservient to the marksman, but the seventh is absolute disposal to the devil himself. After three years, the soul of the marksman comes under the ownership of the devil. Redemption can only be achieved by providing another victim within the appointed term. Kasper, having made the same contract three years earlier seeks redemption in convincing Max to call upon the dark hunter.

Despite warnings by the spirit of his mother, Max perseveres. Splitting the magic bullets between them, Max and Kasper use all but two of the bullets. Max demands that Kasper gives his last bullet to him for use in the trial to win the hand of Agathe. Kasper refuses and as Max leaves, Kasper shoots a fox, leaving Max with the seventh ‘cursed’ bullet.

On the day of the trial, Max is ordered to shoot a dove, but the bullet, guided by the dark hunter misses and strikes Agathe. Wounded, but protected by her bridal wreath Agathe survives. Kasper has failed, and expires.

Der Freischütz is a wonderful opera which I recommend listening to (it’s on iTunes and Spotify), and to this day remains Germany’s second most popular opera – after the Magic Flute of course.

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