A swan, a huntsman, a knight and a liar

Your cheat sheet for the 2023 Waldbühne concert

Does this swan have something to hide?

This year’s Waldbühne concert is full of stories: about a hapless huntsman, a knight with an unusual pet, a young lover with amazing quick-changing skills and a notorious liar. To help you keep track of what’s going on, here are brief summaries of the stories of Der Freischütz, Lohengrin, Der Rosenkavalier and Till Eulenspiegel.

Carl Maria von Weber: “Der Freischütz”

The young huntsman Max loves the forester’s daughter Agathe and vice versa. So far, so straightforward. But Max first has to “win” his bride; he has to prove his marksmanship in a shooting trial. The problem is that Max is not in good form at the moment and hasn’t shot anything in weeks. His colleague Kaspar knows what to do: in the haunted Wolf’s Glen, the devilish huntsman Samiel casts magic bullets that are guaranteed to hit any target. Sounds like a good idea, but the jealous Kaspar is in cahoots with Samiel and has a devious plan: during the shooting trial, the magic bullet is to kill Agathe ... Rather unusually for an opera, the protagonists survive and Agathe and Max finally get to marry. Yay!

Programme at the Waldbühne:
Overture; “Nein! länger tragʼ ich nicht die Qualen” – “Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen”, recitative and aria of Max from Act 1.

Richard Wagner: “Lohengrin”

Elsa is in a bit of a pickle: she has been accused of killing her brother. She has to prove her innocence through trial by combat. By chance, an unknown knight conveniently turns up – on a swan – who wants to fight on her behalf and then take her as his wife. What a woman has to do to escape a false accusation – I mean, really! But there’s a catch: Elsa is not allowed to ask her future husband about his origins. Sounds pretty dodgy, but Elsa doesn’t have much of a choice. The unknown man beats her accuser, Elsa is vindicated, and they celebrate their wedding. However, a schemer stirs up doubts in her mind: what might this knight in shining armour have to hide? And so Elsa asks her newly wedded husband the forbidden question after all. He answers: he is Lohengrin, Knight of the Grail and son of King Parsifal. He then just leaves. A grief-stricken Elsa falls to the ground. To be abandoned for such a trifle.

Programme at the Waldbühne:
Prelude to Act 3; Lohengrin’s Narration “In fernem Land, unnahbar euren Schritte”; “Mein lieber Schwan”

Richard Strauss: “Der Rosenkavalier”

It is quite possible that generations of magicians learned the famous quick-change trick from this boy: Octavian is a lover, chambermaid, flower boy and a nobleman. But let’s take it one step at a time: Octavian first disguises himself as a chambermaid to avoid being discovered as the Marschallin’s lover. The disguise is apparently so convincing that he is propositioned by the boorish Baron Ochs. A short time later, Octavian – now as himself – has to ask for the hand of the rich burgher’s daughter Sophie on behalf of the Baron as his Rosenkavalier, who delivers the traditional silver engagement rose. And what a surprise, he falls head over heels in love with the enchanting young lady. Under no circumstances can the ill-mannered Baron be allowed to have Sophie! An elaborate ploy and another change of clothes help: in the disguise of a chambermaid, Octavian invites the Baron to a dubious inn for a rendezvous, where he exposes the love-struck old man in front of everyone. The Baron is no longer a suitable husband, but Octavian is. Sophie and her “Knight of the Rose” are happily reunited.

Programme at the Waldbühne:
Suite op. 59

Richard Strauss: “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks”

Strauss actually wanted to make an opera out of the literary model of Till Eulenspiegel – even though he found the character “too shallow”. However, for reasons unknown, he dropped the idea and wrote a tone poem instead. Till Eulenspiegel is a prankster who travels around, driving his fellow human beings up the wall. They think he is stupid, but he outwits them time and again. He lies, cheats and causes chaos: sometimes he rides a horse through the market women’s pottery, disguises himself as a sermonizing pastor, tries in vain to attract the beautiful girls and pretends to be a scholar. Strauss was obviously infected by the Eulenspiegel’s mischievousness, and musically plays with the audience’s listening expectations. That’s right, you’re being ʻprankedʼ here, and again and again you hear Till’s gleeful laughter. But justice triumphs in the end: Till is brought to court and strung up. A happy ending? The epilogue at least suggests that Till Eulenspiegel lives on to tell his stories.

Programme at the Waldbühne:
Till Eulenspiegel’s merry pranks op. 28

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