Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Mascagni's Isabeau at Opera Holland Park: in conversation with David Butt Philip

Opera directors are used to thinking their way out of theatrical, dramaturgical and musico-dramatic conundrums, but one of the more unusual challenges must be how to stage the spectacle of a young princess’s naked horseback-ride through the streets of a city.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

(Left to right) Beau Gibson (Froh), Vitalij Kowaljow (Wotan), Wayne Tigges (Donner), Michelle De Young (Frika), (rear) Ellie Dehn (Freia) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus]
15 Mar 2009

LA “Ring” up and running

LOS ANGELES: On February 21 the capacity audience in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was overwhelmed by the staging of Das Rheingold that launched the Los Angeles Opera’s new production of Der Ring des Nibelungen. So was Wagner.

Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold

Wotan, Vitalij Kowaljow; Loge, Arnold Bezuyen; Alberich, Gordon Hawkins; Mime, Graham Clark; Fricka, Michelle Deyoung; Erda, Jill Grove; Fasolt, Morris Robinson; Fafner, Eric Halfvarson; Freia, Ellie Dehn; Donner, Wayne Tigges; Froh, Beau Gibson; Woglinde, Stacey Tappan; Wellgunde, Lauren McNeese; Flosshilde, Beth Clayton. Los Angeles Opera. James Conlon, conducting.

Above: (Left to right) Beau Gibson (Froh), Vitalij Kowaljow (Wotan), Wayne Tigges (Donner), Michelle De Young (Frika), (rear) Ellie Dehn (Freia)

All photos by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of Los Angeles Opera

 

Be that as it may, this first installment of the four-opera Ring slated for completion by the LAO in 2010, was an auspicious event, for not only is it the first production of the work in the 22-year history of the company, but the first “indigenous” Los Angeles Ring as well. Only stagings “imported” by the Met on tour and from San Francisco had been seen in the city previously. Thus excitement was high in the city, and it was heart warming to witness the acclaim brought to Rheingold.

The Ring, of course, has been “in” in America for several decades, so the LAO is merely falling in line. During the current year it will be seen in part in Washington and San Francisco and complete in Seattle. And the Met is about to retire its current production to make way for a new staging to begin next season. Nonetheless Rheingold remains a complex work made even more so by Achim Freyer, the director and designer of the entire LAO Ring.

It’s easy — if a bit tongue in cheek — to attribute the appeal of the Ring to the contemporary relevance of its plot: this god-guy Wotan builds a house that he cannot pay for and the whole world goes to Hell in a handbasket — or in the old-fashioned cartoonesque airplane, in which Freyer sends Wagner’s gods off to Walhalla at the end of Rheingold.

On the heels of so much on-stage color the rainbow bridge called for by Wagner, who wrote his own libretto, would have been at best a pale apparition. As the opera world moved away from the swords and shields traditional in Ring stagings obedient to Wagner, “concept” productions became de rigueur. Stagings that took cues from Marx and Freud were the center of controversy — especially in Germany, where French filmmaker Patrice Chéreau set new standards of adventure with the 1976 post-industrial Ring that marked the centennial of the work in Wagner’s own Bayreuth mecca.

In this country environmental Rings have decried Wotan’s destruction of the world oak to obtain wood for his spear. The troublesome military industrial complex even in Wagner! Thus the Ring is now open game, and the LAO promised “adventure” with its long-awaited staging.

Although Freyer may have given the company more than its audience bargained for in Rheingold, the enthusiastic opening-night reception has heightened the anticipation already awaiting completion of the cycle. But what has Feyer done to earn this reception? He has — as he sees it — offered not merely an interpretation of Rheingold. He has rather created a companion piece to the work — or even an anti-opera — designed both to realize Wagner’s own intentions and to place his audience at a critical distance from the Ring. To understand this, it helps to know a bit about the roots to which Feyer makes brief reference in a program-book essay.

rheingold_244.pngArnold Bezuyen (Loge)

At 74, the director is old enough to have cut his theatrical teeth in the Berlin Ensemble that was the laboratory of Bert Brecht, arguably the dramatic genius of the 20th century. Freyer makes reference to Brecht’s “alienation theory” that encourages the spectator “to decide creatively which truths are contained in the exemplary strange figures and worlds [of Wagner] for himself.” Although Brecht lived for some time just down the road from the Chandler in Santa Monica, that was long ago, and a modicum of information about his alienation theory is called for.

Brecht spoke of traditional theater as “culinary” — you enjoyed the show — and forgot about it. His “epic” theater — the term stresses the narrative drive of the concept — was didactic and open ended. Conclusions were left to the audience. “That’s not a good ending,” Brecht writes at the end of The Good Woman. There has to be a better one — there just has to be!” His audience left the theater with homework in hand.

So is that what enthralled the Los Angeles audience on February 21. Hardly — or, at best, only in part. Freyer — about that there is no doubt — is talented man with an impressive grasp of the theater, and an audience could not but be impressed by a scrim that ran red with blood following Fafner‘s murder of brother giant Fasolt.

It was a thrill a minute through the 2.45 intermission less minutes of Rheingold. The audience was kept busy watching, but did they have time for the requisite thinking? Moreover, there are many fine touches in this Rheingold, such as the huge eyeball that glows downstage, recalling that Wotan sacrificed an eye to win Fricka.

Central to Freyer’s entire staging is a raked disc that one might see as an act of homage to Wieland Wagner’s first post-war Bayreuth Ring, the production that liberated the work by cleansing it of the traditional trappings that had made Wagner the court composer of National Socialism.

But while Wieland brought to his grandfather’s works the “noble simplicity and calm grandeur” that Winckelmann in the 18th century saw as the essence of classicism, Freyer weighs Wagner down under a hopeless tons of clutter. The singers are for the most part encased in larger-than-life replicas of themselves, from which they occasional step forth. At one point Wotan sings from the belly of the enlarged figure as if he were a Tellatubby.

Freyer keeps his audience guessing, but does the quest for answers only obscure whatever message he is attempting to convey? Clearly, however, this is a Ring in progress, and much will happen to it before it is completed. It is a welcome Ring that will make its mark. But for the moment one can only say: “Stay tuned!”

Whatever one thinks of Freyer’s staging, there is little room for argument about the excellence of the cast that the LAO has assembled for the Ring. In his role debut young Ukrainian Vitalij Kowaljow is clearly a Wotan of tomorrow, and Michelle DeYoung, the world’s reigning Brangäne, was a wonderfully feminine Fricka, happily without the markings of the shrew that many expect from Wotan’s often-betrayed wife.

Gordon Hawkins was everything selfish and distasteful that Alberich must be while acquitting himself admirably as a vocalist. Singing, however, from within a huge mask — as did Graham Clark as his brother Mime — he left listeners missing the facial expression so important a part of singing.

Jill Grove delivered Era’s words of warning with motherly concern, and Holland’s Arnold Bezuyen, every inch a flaming god of fire, won the hearts of the audience with his portrayal of four-handed Loge as a trickster god.

Stacey Tappan, Lauren McNeese and Beth Clayton were unusually attractive Rhinemaidens as they sang from billowing expanses of the blue cloth that was their river home.

As brother giants Fasold and Fafner Morris Robinson and veteran Eric Halfvarson sang magnificently, although clumsily equipped with mirrors to exaggerate the size of their faces.

Beau Gibson and Wayne Tigges as brother gods Froh and Donner and Ellie Dehn as their bartered bride sister Freia completed the large and admirable cast.

LAO music director James Conlon, who mastered Wagner during his years in Cologne and Paris, drew superb playing from the LAO orchestra, concealed somewhat in Bayreuth style by a fabric cover over the pit.


The Los Angeles Opera Ring des Nibelungen continues with Die Walküre set to open on April 4. Siegfried and Die Götterdämmerung follow during the 2009-2010 season. The entire city will join in celebrating the completion of the project with three complete cycles on stage in June 2010.

With a total budget of $32 million, the production is a project of monumental dimensions in these troubled times. Washington National Opera recently announced that due to a lack of funds it will complete its current staging with a concert performance of Götterdämmerung.

Placido Domingo, who sings Siegmund in Los Angeles, is general director of both companies.

For information and tickets on the LAO Ring, call 213-972-8001 or visit www.laopera.com.

Wes Blomster

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):