Trading your soul: the opera 

For two centuries, Goethe’s Faust — the character who sold his soul to the devil for youth, love and riches — has been the source of great works of literature and music.

One major opera on the theme, Carl Maria von Weber’s 1820 "Der Freischütz" ("The Free-Shooter"), is a historic national work in Germany, but rarely performed in this country.

It was last seen at the Metropolitan Opera in 1972, at the San Francisco Opera a quarter-century ago, and in 1990 at Palo Alto’s West Bay Opera, which is reviving the melodic, romantic piece this weekend.

Music director Jose Louis Moscovich is an advocate: "I love and revere this piece and I have assembled a cast that I believe will do justice to it. It’s a truly outrageous score, loaded with dramatic opportunity, brilliant, strong and nuanced. I am very much looking forward to conducting it, and hope to make at least some audience members into ‘Freischütz’ fans by the time the curtain goes down."

The hero is a hunter named Max (Ben Bongers), in love with Agathe (Paula Goodman Wilder), who is to marry the winner of a shooting contest. Enter Kaspar (Peter Graham), the devil’s instrument, peddling magic bullets — with a high price.

The music is "pre-Wagnerian," closely related to Wagner’s use of German legend and folk music.

Conducted by Moscovich and directed by Yuval Sharon, "Der Freischütz" also features Yannis Adoniou’s KUNST-STOFF contemporary dance company, known for its eclectic movement-focused art experiments in San Francisco for 10 years.

The piece has a new English libretto (supertitles in English will be projected while the German text is sung) because Moscovich finds traditional translations "inadequate."

Even the original German, he says, is "convoluted syntactically," possibly to emphasize the feel of the work as a fairy tale.

Moscovich offers an example: When Kaspar is about to teach Max how to make magic bullets, he wants to convey that the business won’t be easy, saying, "Umsonst ist der Tod." Then he explains that forces of nature don’t yield their secrets without a fight.

Moscovich says, "It had been translated as ‘death is pointless’ and other nonsense. ‘Umsonst’ actually means free of charge. The point of the line: ‘Death is the only thing you get for free (eventually); for everything else, you’ve got to work hard.’ Quite sarcastic, very easy to grasp, quite in character for Kaspar, and very German."


Der Freischütz

Presented by West Bay Opera

Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

When: 8 p.m. Feb. 19 and Feb. 27; 2 p.m. Feb. 21 and Feb. 28

Tickets: $30 to $55

Contact: (650) 424-9999,

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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