Der Freischütz Synopsis

The Story of Weber's 3 Act Opera

Design for the Act3 finale of 'Der Freischütz' 1821
Design for the Act3 finale of 'Der Freischütz' 1821. Carl Wilhelm Gropius/Wikimedia Commons

Carl Maria von Weber's 3 act opera, Der Freischutz, takes place in Bohemia during the 17th century. It debuted on June 18, 1821, at the Schauspielhaus theater now known as the Konzerthaus Berlin concert hall in Berlin, Germany. Here is a synopsis of the three acts.

Der Freischütz, ACT 1

Max is an assistant forester and is set to become the head forester, however, he must first pass a test of skill in marksmanship. Cuno, the current head forester, has a daughter named Agathe, with whom Max is in love, and the winner of the contest will marry. The following day, Max takes up his gun and confidently fires his bullets at the targets. When the contest concludes, Max is flabbergasted to learn that the young peasant, Kilian, wins the contest and is proclaimed "King of Marksmen." Max is tormented and mocked by Kilian and the other men, but they finally stop when Max loses his temper and threatens them. Cuno does not understand how Max lost and chalks it up to bad luck.

Casper, another assistant forester and friend of Max, sees Max's anguish and decides to capitalize on it. Casper has a secret: many years ago, he sold his soul to the devil after having been rejected by Agathe. The problem is, the next day, his contract runs up and the devil will return to collect his soul. Casper convinces Max to make a deal with the devil to receive seven magic bullets, capable of hitting any target, to use at the next contest. Max, who believes his life to be ruined, especially since he thinks Agathe will not love him, is left alone with his thoughts. Casper returns with words of encouragement. He hands Max a gun with one magic bullet. When Max fires at an eagle soaring high above them, he is amazed when the bullet strikes the bird, sending it careening to the ground. Casper is delighted when Max agrees to make the deal. Casper hopes he will receive three more years of life by submitting Max in his place.

Der Freischütz, ACT 2

Meanwhile, within Agathe's bedroom, Agathe cannot help but feel there is something bad happening. Previously, she came across a hermit in the forest who warned her that danger will befall her, but she needn't worry, she would be protected by her bridal wreath. Agathe confides in her cousin, Annchen. Suddenly, at the same moment, Max fires his magic bullet at the eagle, a portrait of Agathe's relative falls from the wall and strikes her on the head. Avoiding serious injury, Agathe becomes even more anxious and uneasy. Annchen rehangs the portrait and tries to cheer up Agathe. Without much luck, Annchen leaves Agathe alone in the bedroom. Agathe takes comfort that Max will return with good news that he has won the contest, and soon begins fighting her sleep.

Finally, Max arrives and bursts into her bedroom. He tells her that he has lost the day's contest, but not to worry - he has just shot an eagle out of the sky! He is determined to win the next day's contest. He tells her that he has killed a deer and he must now take it to Wolf's Glen before night's end. Despite Agathe's protests, Max quickly departs.

Max meets Casper at the glen under the veil of the dark sky. Casper begins to conjure Samiel, the Black Huntsman, to start the process of casting the magic bullets. The spirit of Max's mother appears to Max, pleading him to discontinue this evil endeavor. As Max starts to question his being there, the Black Huntsman projects a vision of Agathe drowning herself in the nearby lake, because she cannot bear the pain of Max losing the contest. Max falls for the Samiel's deceit and jumps into the lake. The spirit of Max's mother vanishes, and the demons of the night laugh and celebrate their victory as they begin crafting the magic bullets.

Der Freischütz, ACT 3

On the last day of the contest, Agathe is praying in her room, especially after having a bad dream with terrible omens. Annchen tries to cheer her up again and is rather successful. The bridesmaids arrive with Agathe's bridal garments in advance of the contest's conclusion, and Agathe is reminded of what the hermit told her - she would be protected by the bridal wreath. However, Agathe's happy demeanor is squashed when Annchen finds a funeral wreath in place of the bridal wreath. To Agathe's relief, a new bridal wreath is made.

Down at the target range, Max and Casper have divided the bullets. Max, having used his three magic bullets successfully, asks Casper for one more bullet. Casper has used two already and plans to use the third one soon. However, Casper is determined to reserve the seventh, and last, bullet for the remaining round.

Max is requested by Prince Ottokar to join him in his tent for the last round of shooting. Casper hands Max the seventh bullet but does not disclose that this bullet is controlled by the Black Huntsman. When instructed to shoot a dove, Max takes aim, but is suddenly controlled by Samiel and his gun is fired while pointed at Agathe. Agathe is struck by the bullet and falls to the ground. Though it appears she is mortally wounded, the bullet was deflected by her bridal wreath. In fact, the bullet struck Casper instead. After Agathe recovers from fainting, Casper sees the hermit at her side and realizes his failure. Samiel materializes beside Casper and drags his soul to the underworld, leaving Max behind. Prince Ottokar demands an explanation. Max divulges all the details of his and Casper's actions. The prince is outraged that Max as taken such drastic and unfair measures and decides to banish him. Agathe, Cuno, and the other foresters protest the prince's ruling.

Before Max is sentenced to leave, the hermit offers his council to the prince. He explains that Max was without fault prior to the start of the contest, but having lost, and fearing the loss of his love, Agathe, he took desperate measures to ensure he would not fail the final contest. The hermit believes Max should be put on probation for one year, but then urges the prince and the others to look within their own hearts to find their own sins. Those without can cast the first stone. The prince is persuaded and reluctantly gives in to the hermit's request. The prince announces that he will marry Agatha and Max after his probationary year.

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