In Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz, the young protagonist Max, under pressure to win the hand of Agathe, enters into a pact with Samiel, the Devil. In the well known Wolf’s Glen sequence he creates, in a magic ritual, seven magic bullets in order to become the champion of the village’s shooting contest, in which Agathe is the prize.

Director Christian Räth and set designer Gary McCann have reimagined the narrative context in their production envisaging Max as a young Romantic composer who creates the opera we see unfold before us.

His inability to shoot is subsequently seen as a creative block. The characters around him, including mysterious figures dressed as birds, emanate from his imagination and are expressions of different aspects of his inspiration and inner turmoil.

The stage design is thus a self consciously theatrical space. The space is defined by an aggressive geometry—which sometimes through Nina Dunn’s video projections appears infinite in its perspective. At times the set resembles an auditorium with mouldy red seats, a huge velvet curtain, and a crystal chandelier on which the deus ex machina character of the Hermit appears. At other points, dense clusters of pine trees creep in from the wings evoking a primal forest. Often the two worlds coexist on stage—all manifestations of Max’s creative process and the pressure he feels as both the creator of the world and his sympathies with his fictional hero. Omnipresent is the black grand piano on which he works. At the climax of the Wolf Glen’s sequence, it erupts into flames, literally becoming the crucible within which the whole work is forged.

Der Freischütz is now on stage at Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna.

Directed by Christian Räth, sets and costumes designed by Gary McCann, videos by Nina Dunn, lighting by Thomas Hase.