No, it wasn't a surprise. But a confirmation of the Helvetic smiley kind. Since the beginning of his theater and music theater career, which began in 1994 with his first real opera direction of Debussy's "Pelléas et Mélisande" in Frankfurt, - Christoph Marthaler has actually always enjoyed staging Weber's "Freischütz".
The clubbing, the falling pictures, the loneliness and isolation of middle-aged people who somehow and at some point missed the test shot, accompanied by the singing of popular folk songs that have been alienated here, the shooting to death, the distrust in promises of salvation of any kind, especially Christian ones, that drags on finally like a stylistic cantus firmus through almost all of Marthaler's works. And such things finally found their Weber work fulfillment at the place of origin, at the Theater Basel, where Marthaler was discovered in 1988 after initial Zurich off-screen beginnings. In Marthalerian, of course.
Oddly enough, the more notable "Freischütz" variations (including the burst pipe) were fired by not-quite-Germans around the 200th anniversary of the Berlin premiere in 1821. From the Russian Dmitri Tcherniakov in Munich and Amsterdam, from the Berliner of Turkish descent Ersan Mondtag in Kassel and now from the Swiss Christoph Marthaler in Basel.
And again we learn: Because the Swiss are similar to the Germans, but still tick a little differently emotionally, this slight shift distorts the “Freischütz”, who is recovering from the Swiss nature, in the most beautiful way.
Of course it also marthals here, but only gently. Marthaler just can't get out of the endless loops of his mania and tics. They have made his opera work increasingly clumsy, predictable and overbearing in recent years. With the "Freischütz", however, all of this finds its way perfectly into the black.
This already begins with the overture, which the thoughtful Titus Engel at the podium lets intoned very quietly, yet insistently, full of tension. In the up and down ditch, where - as one of several variants on this enjoyable evening - the hunters' choir bubbles foam into the beer mug. The Basel Chamber Orchestra sits there with original instruments, sounds reserved, sometimes rough, but also very supple, a loving Weber can be heard.
But not always. Some things have been changed, the rural stage music, which Marthaler loves very much, has been specially re-orchestrated and given more space. The first part ends with a foreign Volksjäger choir, the second part begins with the Wolfschlucht, where the choir sits as a fake orchestra on Anna Viebrock's shabby stage and the grumpy Kaspar (Jochen Schmeckenbecher) lethargically pours his Freikugeln.
Agathe (powerful and fragile at the same time: Nicole Chevalier) sings her cello-accompanied aria of the veiling cloud, sitting depressed in a chair with a fiddle in her arm. She has long since lost all connection to the whining, prematurely aged Max (adorable loser: Rolf Romei). Even the elderly Ännchen (the wonderfully precise Rosemary Hardy) cannot cheer up the mood with her solo “maiden wreath” on the piano with a lonely horn.
Then the variations on the Jägerchor, from loudly gruff to a cappella, played from afar, were wonderful. This is Marthaler at his best, just as he placed the desolate shooting sextet (including his original actor Ueli Jäggi as the grumbling hunter from the Black Forest) at the tables with Maggi/Aromat sets in the clubhouse in front of the stage right from the start.
Behind the curtain the choir is waiting as a song table in an apron and beige bourgeois trousers, in the front left there is the women's toilet as an eat-in kitchen, on the right in the row of lockers anxious Max sticks his head in the tin cupboard. And in the middle, foxes, rabbits, chamois and wild boars jerking past as flat shooting range figures. But nobody meets her.
It started with the emptiness of those Marthaler endless loops, where words and sounds fall into nothingness. It ends, of course, in a finale that gets slower and slower, where everyone twitches their ticks on the floor, as if they were terribly unwell now because Prince Ottokar (Karl-Heinz Brandt) and the hermit/Samiel (Jasin Rammal-Rykala) somehow tied the threads of fate to the want to unravel the obligatory good opera ending.
Of course Christoph Marthaler refuses, but he doesn't smash anything here, just cleans it up differently, with the most beautiful cacophony: the soloists sing the Apotheosis in C major, the women's choir crows its "maiden wreath", the men once again the Jägerchor. And the orchestra plays Wolf's Glen Demon.
So they all end up terribly confused and yet together in one fell swoop. boom Shut the flap, "Freischütz" is alive. Airy as seldom.