In three acts by C. M. VON WEBER.
Text by FRIEDRICH KIND.
This charming opera done at Dresden 1820, is the most favored of
Weber's compositions. It is truly German, being both fantastic and
poetic. The libretto is an old German legend and runs thus:
A young huntsman, Max, is in love with Agathe,' daughter of Cuno, the
chief-ranger of Prince Ottocar of Bohemia.
ax woos her, but their
union depends on a master-shot, which he is to deliver on the following
During a village-festival he has all day been unlucky in shooting, and
we see him full of anger and sorrow, being mocked at by peasants, more
lucky than he.
His comrade, Caspar, one of the ranger's older huntsmen is his evil
genius. He has sold himself to the devil, is a gloomy, mysterious
fellow, and hopes to save his soul by delivering some other victim to
the demon. He wants to tempt Max to try enchanted bullets, to be
obtained at the cross-road during the midnight-hour, by drawing a magic
circle with a bloody sword and invoking the name of the mysterious
huntsman. Father Cuno, hearing him, drives him away, begging Max to
think of his bride and to pray to God for success.
But Max cannot forget the railleries of the peasants; he broods over
his misfortunes and when he is well-nigh despairing, Caspar, who
meanwhile calls Samiel (the devil in person) to help, encourages him to
take refuge in stimulants. He tries to intoxicate the unhappy lover by
pouring drops from a phial into his wine. When Max has grown more and
more excited, Caspar begins to tell him of nature's secret powers,
which might help him. Max first struggles against the evil influence,
but when Caspar, handing him his gun, lets him shoot an eagle, soaring
high in the air, his huntman's heart is elated and he wishes to become
possessed of such bullet. Caspar tells him that they are enchanted and
persuades him to a meeting in the Wolf's-glen at midnight, where the
bullets may be moulded.
In the second act Agathe is with her cousin Aennchen. Agathe is the
true German maiden, serious and thoughtful almost to melancholy. She
presents a marked contrast to her gay and light-hearted cousin, who
tries to brighten Agathe with fun and frolic. They adorn themselves
with roses, which Agathe received from a holy hermit, who blessed her,
but warned her of impending evil. So Agathe is full of dread
forebodings, and after Aennchen's departure she fervently prays to
Heaven for her beloved. When she sees him come to her through the
forest with flowers on his hat, her fears vanish, and she greets him
joyously. But Max only answers hurriedly, that having killed a stag in
the Wolf's-glen, he is obliged to return there. Agathe, filled with
terror at the mention of this ill-famed name wants to keep him
back, but ere she can detain him, he has fled. With hurried steps Max
approaches the Wolf's-glen, where Caspar is already occupied in forming
circles of black stones, in the midst of which he places a skull, an
eagle's wing, a crucible and a bullet-mould. Caspar then calls on
Samiel, invoking him to allow him a few more years on earth. To-morrow
is the day appointed for Satan to take his soul, but Caspar promises to
surrender Max in exchange. Samiel, who appears through the cleft of a
rock, agrees to let him have six of the fatal balls, reserving only the
seventh for himself.
Caspar then proceeds to make the bullets, Max only looking on, stunned
and remorseful at what he sees. His mother's spirit appears to him,
but he is already under the influence of the charm, he cannot move.
The proceeding goes forward amid hellish noise. A hurricane arises,
flames and devilish forms flicker about, wild and horrible creatures
rush by and others follow in hot pursuit. The noise grows worse, the
earth seems to quake, until at length after Caspar's reiterated
invocations Samiel shows himself at the word, "seven". Max and Caspar
both make the sign of the cross, and fall on their knees more dead than
In the third act we find Agathe, waiting for her bridesmaids. She is
perturbed and sad, having had frightful dreams, and not knowing what
has become of Max. Aennchen consoles her, diverting her with a merry
song, until the bridesmaids enter, bringing flowers and gifts.
They then prepare to crown her with the bridal wreath, when lo, instead
of the myrtle, there lies in the box a wreath of white roses, the
ornament of the dead.
Meanwhile everybody is assembled on the lawn near Prince Ottocar's
tent, to be present at the firing of the master-shot. The Prince
points out to Max a white dove as an object at which to aim. At this
critical moment Agathe appears, crying out: "Don't shoot Max, I am the
white dove!" But it is too late; Max has fired, and Agathe sinks down
at the same time as Caspar, who has been waiting behind a tree and who
now falls heavily to the ground, while the dove flies away unhurt,
Everybody believes that Max has shot his bride, but she is only in a
swoon; the bullet has really killed the villain Caspar. It was the
seventh, the direction of which Samiel reserved for himself, and Satan
having no power over the pious maiden, directed it on Caspar, already
forfeited to him. Max confesses his sin with deep remorse. The Prince
scornfully bids him leave his dominions for ever. But Agathe prays for
him, and at last the Prince follows the hermit's advice, giving the
unhappy youth a year of probation, during which to prove his
repentance, and grow worthy of his virtuous bride.