Halloween Horror: Der Freischütz and Phantasmagoria

Ever been to an Opera?
The Ballet?
Ever listened to a Baroque orchestra using authentic period instruments?
Want to time travel back a few hundred years or so when life was simpler?
To be transported to an era when men hunted and quaffed flagons of red wine all day – because that’s what “real” men did.

When Ladies – so bored out of their minds because for them the biggest decisions of the day involved choosing an outfit to wear whilst embroidering some useless “whatnot” in the “Morning room” – swooned and hyperventilated at the thought of the imminent arrival home (after a long day of huntin, killin and thigh slapping) of their loved ones?

You can get a fix of all of the above by visiting a performance of
“Der Freischütz”, an opera in three acts by Carl Maria von Weber with a libretto by Friedrich Kind. It premiered on 18 June 1821 at the Schauspielhaus Berlin and is currently playing at The Elgin Theatre Toronto, courtesy of the world-renowned “Opera Atelier

Aside from the expansively and painstakingly researched authentic period touches in all aspects of production – ie. the adaptation of the dances to include the crude un-evolved limited ballet steps of the early 19th century to the set design and costumes; the gothic horror of the piece heightened through the use of Henry Fuselli’s dark images (The Nightmare image of gnome-like creature atop a sleeping woman with a wild-eyed horse peering at them), the huge thrill for me was the surprising and effective use of lighting and illusion through the utilizion of mid 19 century magic lantern “technology” and a “Peppers Ghost” illusion technique (YouTube this).

Phantasmagoria was a form of theatre involving the Magic Lantern. Originally developed in the mid-17th century; one version consisted of a lantern with a candle and concave mirror inside. A tube was fitted into the side of the lantern and held convex lenses at either end. Near the centre of the tube, a glass slide of the image to be projected was held. The other version – described as the predecessor of today’s slide projector and the forerunner of the motion picture projector – involved the hand painting of images onto the glass slide until the mid-19th century after which photographic slides replaced the painted images.
The term “phantasmagoria” developed from the increasing use of these magic lanterns to project macabre and horrific images such as the devil and phantoms. In the mid-18th century, in Leipzig, Germany, a coffee shop owner named Johann Georg Schröpfer began offering séances in a converted billiards room which became so popular that by the 1760s he had transformed himself into a full-time showman, using elaborate effects including projections of ghosts to create a convincing spirit experience.
This was taken further by Étienne-Gaspard “Robertson” Robert, a Belgian inventor and physicist who was famed for his phantasmagoria productions. After discovering that he could put the magic lantern on wheels to create either a moving image or one that increased and decreased in size, Robertson moved his show. In an abandoned crypt of a Capuchin convent near the Place Vendôme, he staged hauntings, using several lanterns, special sound effects and the eerie atmosphere of the tomb, he created lightening-filled skies with both ghosts and skeletons receding and approaching the audience. In order to add to the horror, Robertson and his assistants would sometimes create voices for the phantoms”

look out for the use of this incredible effect in the scene in Wolf’s Glen where Samuel (the Devil) is called upon. Watch very carefully, remembering this is a centuries old technique used to simulate what is in essence a “vanishing act” If you understand what is being done here you will enjoy it all the more. I’ve never seen anything like this used in modern day theatre!!!

Opera Atelier’s own PR “blurb” states that it strives to create productions that would have been recognized and respected in their own time while providing a thrilling theatrical experience for modern audiences”

It sure did that for me


Playing October 17 – November 3, 2012

Opera Atelier is not in the business of “reconstruction”, rather, each production is a new creative effort and takes its own place in history. Opera Atelier


2 thoughts on “Halloween Horror: Der Freischütz and Phantasmagoria

    • Hi there
      Thx for stopping by
      I love Toronto and I like to think that enthusiasm comes across in my writing. I have been writing professionally for “Where.ca” recently which dictates a very different restricted writing style so my blog has suffered.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s