Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Probing Bernstein and MacMillan double bill in Amsterdam

The Opera Forward Festival (OFF) in Amsterdam is about new things: new compositions, rediscovered works and new faces. This year’s program included a double bill produced by Dutch National Opera’s talent development wing. Leonard Bernstein’s portrait of a miserable marriage in affluent suburbia, Trouble in Tahiti, was the contrasting companion piece to James McMillan’s Clemency, a study of the sinister side of religious belief.

Macbeth in Lyon

A revival of the Opéra de Lyon’s 2012 Occupy Wall St. production of Verdi’s 1865 Macbeth, transforming naive commentary into strange irony, some high art included.

Barber of Seville Is Fun in Tucson

On March 4, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Tucson. Allen Moyer designed the bright and happy scenery for performances at Minnesota Opera,

Moody, Mysterious Morel

Long Beach Opera often takes willing audiences on an unexpected journey and such is undeniably the case with its fascinating traversal of The Invention of Morel.

Acis and Galatea: 2018 London Handel Festival

Katie Hawks makes quite a claim for Handel’s Acis and Galatea when, in her programme article, she describes it as the composer’s ‘most perfect work’. Surely, one might feel, this is a somewhat hyperbolic evaluation of a 90-minute pastoral masque, or serenade, based on an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which has its origins in a private entertainment?

Oriana, Fairest Queen: Stile Antico celebrate the life and times of Elizabeth I

Stile Antico’s lunchtime play-list, celebrating the Virgin Queen’s long reign, shuffled between sacred and secular works, from penitential to patriotic, from sensual to celebratory.

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.



Vitalij Kowaljow (Wotan), Linda Watson (Brunnhilde) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of LA Opera]
19 Apr 2009

Die Walküre at Los Angeles Opera

The Los Angeles Opera audiences seem to have decided that no matter how they may really feel about Achim Freyer’s “performance art” staging of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, the singers and musicians are giving them at long last a chance to hear these monumental works at the Dorothy Chandler.

Richard Wagner: Die Walküre

Siegmund: Plácido Domingo, Christopher Ventris (Apr 22 & 25); Sieglinde: Anja Kampe; Brunnhilde: Linda Watson; Wotan: Vitalij Kowaljow; Fricka: Michelle DeYoung; Hunding: Eric Halfvarson; Gerhilde: Ellie Dehn; Helmwige: Susan Foster; Ortlinde: Melissa Citro; Waltraute: Erica Brookhyser; Rossweisse: Margaret Thompson; Siegrune: Buffy Baggott; Grimgerde: Jane Gilbert; Schwertleite: Ronnita Miller. Los Angeles Opera. James Conlon, conductor. Achim Freyer, director and designer.

Above: Vitalij Kowaljow (Wotan), Linda Watson (Brunnhilde) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of LA Opera]


So they are going to enjoy it. At the end of Sunday’s matinee of the always weird and sometimes wonderful Freyer take on Die Walküre, the ovations grew into what seemed for once to be a true standing ovation which went on for quite a long time.

The best features and worst flaws of Freyer’s staging cannot be separated. His conception, for better and worse, sees Wagner’s narrative as a playground for theatrical invention, with the characters not much more than archetypes. Thus the major characters often spend much time behind stationary facades, in the form of flat representations of their costumes. On Sunday the heart of act one, the growing sense of identification between Siegfried and Sieglinde, long-lost siblings, could not beat with life while Plácido Domingo and Anja Kampe stayed on opposite ends of the ring/disc on which most of the action takes place. Narratively, Freyer sees these characters as trapped in their conventional identities until forced to move beyond their ordinary sense of self by circumstance. When Domingo and Kampe could finally emerge from behind their painted fronts and interact, some narrative blood finally started to flow. This same structure hobbled the action of Das Rheingold as well, but Freyer’s commitment to the conception is starting to pay off. After a slow start, the rest of the opera developed into a gripping affair.

Domingo and Kampe were made up as mirror image figures, half blue/black, half gray. Other productions may have tried to cast two singers with a passing resemblance (see Peter Hoffman and Jeannine Altmeyer in the Bayreuth/Chereau/Boulez films). Freyer uses his highly stylized costuming and make-up design to get to the heart of the characters, with no concern for naturalistic depiction.

Jackets play a big role in Freyer’s scheme as well, with Hunding’s enormous plush red number making him somehow comic and yet still insinuatingly dangerous. Another more somber jacket topped with a tilted hat stands in for Wotan as Wanderer at times, and at the end of act three, yet another jacket, metallic this time, descended and enveloped Brünnhilde as she stood in suspended animation, surrounded by Loge’s fire. As Freyer’s designs appear and reappear, in various transformations, he is building up a total world view that acknowledges the essential “otherness” of the story’s time and place, while keeping something recognizably human at the core.

That is underscored by the most surprising development in Freyer’s staging, the growth of his presentation of Wotan. The excellent singer Vitalij Kowaljow floundered in Das Rheingold, kept far too much of the time behind his costume facade and getting almost no chance to project the complexity of the character. On Sunday, he was finally free to move about, and as a result your reviewer finally felt that Wotan was on the stage, in all his misguided aspiration and egotistical fury. The marital combat with Michelle De Young’s formidable Fricka raged like the epic battle of wills that it is, and when Fricka exited, waving her weirdly elongated arms in triumph, Freyer allowed Kowaljow’s Wotan the un-godlike but understandable consolation of sinking down in dejection on the small platform in the center of the disc. Then as Wotan’s monologue ensued, with Linda Watson’s Brünnhilde listening, Freyer brought onto the now revolving disc the characters who populate Wotan’s tale. Wotan was truly at the center of the universe, and yet still a lost and troubled figure.

lrg-328-walk__re_stage_228.gifCounter Clockwise begining left: Erica Brookhyser (Waltraute), Susan Foster (Helmwige), Buffy Baggott (Siegrune), Ellie Dehn (Gerhilde), Jane Gilbert (Grimgerde), Margaret Thompson (Rossweisse), Ronnita Miller (Schwertleite), Melissa Citro (Ortlinde) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of LA Opera]

Technically, however, Freyer’s staging has many a bug to work out. The revolving disc creaked far too much, and at other times odd bangs and whistles could be heard. Far too often stagehands in black have to run on stage to fix this or that, with attempted but unsuccessful discretion. And the smoke that pours out seemingly throughout the whole show surely added to the usual rounds of audience coughing, at least in orchestra seating. At some points the frequently employed lightsticks that characters wielded seemed to have their own minds about when they should be on or off.

It’s a fascinating production and a frustrating one. Your reviewer would prefer not to be frustrated, ultimately, but not at the loss of the fascination.

Musically, Los Angeles Opera put together a fine cast, stronger overall that what your reviewer has heard of the singing in the Metropolitan Opera’s current run of the cycle. Kowaljow’s Wotan has power and heft, although he seemed a bit tired by the end of act three. Linda Watson almost managed the treacherous opening battle cries for Brünnhilde, with only that final high note escaping her vocal grasp. After that, she was in control, and Freyer obviously loves this character, giving Watson many opportunities to present her wildness and devotion to her father. Michelle DeYoung repeated her fearsomely obstinate Fricka, and Eric Halfvarson sang a fierce Hunding. Surely he wants to take that red jacket home.

Anja Kampe continues to impress your reviewer as one of the very best sopranos around, although she doesn’t get as much publicity as some others. The voice is secure to just about the top of the range, as well as being as beautiful or forceful as necessary. Domingo has owned the role of Siegmund for sometime, and he is not ready to relinquish ownership. From first to last, he sounded magnificent. A fine gaggle of Valkyries energetically whooped it up astride their bicycle-frame steeds. Strange, isn’t it, in how so many so-called traditional productions, nary a horse is to be seen in this scene.

James Conlon led his forces from inside a covered pit, which created the occasional odd balance but always supported the singers. Some of the grander moments of the score didn’t quite have the accustomed impact, such as the sublime transition to Siegmund’s “Winterstürme” or the concluding Magic Fire music, where Conlon chose a slower tempo. Overall the playing was secure and evocative.

Time will tell if the financial gamble of this risky project will pay off for Los Angeles Opera, and even artistically, it can’t be called a total success. With two more epic chapters yet to unfold (both scheduled for next season), however, Freyer’s staging of Wagner’s Ring cycle may prove to be the foundation on which LAO builds a future audience responsive to challenge and excited by innovation.

Chris Mullins

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):