TWO GUYS -- ONE A BAD BOY, THE other a middling sort -- are standing ankle-deep in swirling dry ice. Weird greenish light is seeping up through the floor beneath them; all around them writhes a gang of skinny, white-faced people in black clothes. The bad guy is trying to get the middling one to help him make something -- it could be ecstasy or booze or Rohypnol -- that will eventually Get the Girl. Except it isn't an intoxicant they're trying to produce, it's a magic bullet. And though this scene looks like it could be a goth club or a rave, it's actually the Seattle Opera's production of Der Freischütz -- an opera that's just as scary and seductive and beautiful today as when it had its debut before the original goth revivalists 170 years ago.

Der Freischütz, which the Seattle Opera translates as "the devil's bullet," was a huge hit when it was first performed in 1821. It's got some beautiful melodies (especially those sung by sopranos Deborah Voigt and Ute Selbig), some great sing-along-able drinking tunes, and a couple of truly rousing choruses, and German-speaking countries mount it all the time. So why has this work fared so miserably in English-speaking countries?

Partly this has to do with folks thinking German opera equals Wagner. It also has to do with our fear of the power of some of those rousing choruses that make you want to stand up and, in a dangerously German way, follow them. The first scene takes place after a shooting contest outside a tavern, and features a frat-boy-like drunken crowd of huntsmen. Ever since the 1930s, the idea of a drink-happy, gun-toting gang of Germans is spooky to non-Germans. Though Weber was certainly a 19th century German nationalist, he was also, as his orchestration reveals, wary of the dangers of the loss of self, whether due to booze, the power of the crowd, or supernatural possession. While the huntsmen sing their drinking song, a piccolo squeals demonically in warning. As Max and bad boy Caspar, sung by the terrific Dutch bass Harry Peeters, cook up the magic bullets, a bell tolls like a funeral. Weber's use of and warnings about what have come to be regarded as the clichés of Romanticism make this opera rewardingly complex. Here's hoping Seattle Opera's mounting of this underrated gem will help increase its popularity.

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