Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

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):