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

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

Carmen in Orange

Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.

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):