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

Das Rheingold, Opera North

Das Rheingold is, of course, the reddest in tooth and claw of all Wagner’s dramas - which is saying something.

Peter Grimes in Princeton

The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.

Scintillating Strauss in Saint Louis

If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.

Saint Louis Takes On ‘The Scottish Opera’

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.

Anatomy Theater: A Most Unusual New Opera

On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Jenůfa, ENO

The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Linda Watson (Brunnhilde), John Treleaven (Siegfried) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of LA Opera]
11 Oct 2009

Los Angeles “Ring” continues to amaze

It’s three down and one to go in the first-ever staging of Richard Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen at Los Angeles Opera. Following the premiere of Siegfried, the third installment of this epic work of music theater, it’s clear that director/designer Achim Freyer is a hands-down winner.

Richard Wagner: Siegfried

Graham Clark: Mime; John Treleaven: Siegfried; Vitalij Kowaljow: Wanderer; Oleg Bryjak: Alberich; Eric Halfvarson: Fafner; Stacey Tappan: Woodbird; Jill Grove: Erda; Linda Watson: Brünnhilde. Los Angeles Opera. James Conlon, conductor. Achim Freyer, director/designer.

Above: Linda Watson (Brunnhilde), John Treleaven (Siegfried) [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of LA Opera]

 

The audience that packed 3,600-seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the September 26 afternoon event, was even more wildly enthusiastic about Feyer’s work than it had been at the end of Rheingold and Walküre that launched this $32-million project last season. (True, there were “boos,” but they were almost totally inaudible against the bravos heaped upon Freyer and his production team.) Yet one must ask whether Freyer’s Wagner is as great as it seems. Has the director, whose theory of theater was shaped in his native East Germany in Bert Brecht’s Berlin Ensemble, really found a — if not the — key to Wagner’s genius or has he rather created a spectacle that awes his audience into breathless admiration?

Although Freyer is clearly a winner, the bigger question is how well Wagner fares under his hand. Every director — even in this age of overheated Regieoper — claims to do what the composer wanted done to realize his intentions. Let’s start with Freyer’s most obvious triumph: he leaves one with the desire to see the segments of this Ring again — an opportunity that will be available when LA Opera stages three complete cycles of the tetralolgy in 2010. Freyer brings an immense amount to Wagner; he makes every moment an overlay of meanings involving symbols impossible to absorb and interpret in a single exposure. Yet his approach to Siegfried, compared to his two earlier installments of the cycle, is relatively minimalist. The stage is uncluttered, and largely absent are the mammoth doubles of the major characters. The staging relies heavily on effects achieved through sophisticated lighting.

Siegfried, although rich in event with the forging of the sword, the slaying of Dragon Fafner and the launching of the love story that will dominate Götterdämmerung, is by far the most difficult of the Ring operas to stage. Wagner, viewing the four-part work as a symphony, suggested that this third chapter is a scherzo, and that has prompted some directors to introduce all sorts of funny-bone nonsense into the staging. Freyer — happily — goes in another direction. Nothung, the sword, is forged vocally without the trappings of the Village Blacksmith, and Siegfried runs Fafner through with only a blue-lighted tube. Indeed, the dragon that dwarfs the stage in many productions is an understated Disneyesque dwarf in top hat.

LAOpera_Siegfried02.jpgScene from Siegfried [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of LA Opera]

One is relieved at the removal of such hackneyed attempts at “realism.” Freyer keeps a tight lid on the scherzo idea. Humor in Wagner? One recalls the waggish observations that Pfitzner’s monumental Palestrina is Parsifal without the jokes.” The one line in Siegfried that gets a laugh in this age of surtitles is the hero’s observation as he removes Brünnhilde’s armor: “That’s not a man!” Wagner hardly expected to split sides with that!

Young Siegfried is — like young Parsifal — a pure fool with everything to learn and only four hours to do so. It’s a heavy trip, and Freyer offers all the help he can in hints and images to get the hero to his goal. It’s the goal — Siegfried’s awakening of Brünnhilde and the great duet that follows - that is most problematic in this staging. Brünnhilde, despite heavily incestuous intimations on the part of Father Wotan, is still a virgin. In terms of sexual enlightenment, however, she is light years ahead of Siegfried who has spent his early years tumbling about the woods with only bears as companions. In the duet a huge distance is yet to be covered in only half an hour of music. It’s here that Freyer offers so much help that Wagner’s music suffers.

The wealth of imagery, lighting effects and those “invisible” imports from Kabuki drama that move slowly about the stage are a study in excess. Text is all important here, and as the curtain fell one wished for a concert performance of the duet to underscore this fact. Freyer’s decision to hide Brünnhilde in a haystack — plus a towering Afro and billowing gown — offered little help. Indeed, although Freyer is out to illuminate text and explain the story, he often detracts from the musical excellence of this production. That excellence is largely the work of music director James Conlon who knows this score note by note and has built an orchestral second to none to do his bidding. His cast, furthermore, is without weak links. True, John Treleaven and Linda Watson, his Siegfried and Brünnhilde, are best viewed as adequate singers, who work with intelligent sensitivity to realize Freyer’s intentions.

Superb, on the other hand, is Graham Clark’s portrayal of Siegfried’s guardian dwarf Mime, a role to which he has claimed almost sole ownership for two decades. As Wotan disguised as the Wanderer Ukrainian Vitalij Kowaljow makes his mark as the most promising young singer to tackle this role in recent seasons. Jill Grove’s Erda is definitive.

What is most strange about this Siegfried is that it is without emotional impact — and perhaps Freyer wants it that way. His teacher Brecht, after all, was out to put feelings on ice and make people think in his didactic theater. The viewer is all too absorbed by Freyer’s approach; he keeps one thinking — or guessing at least. He is demanding, and it’s impressing that the audience responds as positively as it does. Yet an occasional goose bump would provide welcome relief.

A final observation: Freyer grew up secured from the decadence of Hollywood by the Anti-Fascist Protective Wall (the official East German designation for that structure). Yet in Los Angeles one is always aware that Hollywood is right next door, and there is much in Freyer’s Ring — the streaming of colored patterns, the choreography of lighted tubes — that brings that proximity to mind. On the other hand, had Wagner had this technology at his fingertips, he — like Bach at a Bechstein — would have gone bonkers. He would have abandoned his insistence upon “real” trees and rocks and lost himself in the imagination in which Achim Freyer indulges himself perhaps a bit too freely.

Wes Blomster

Götterdämmerung, which completes the Los Angeles Ring, plays from, 3 to 25 April, 2010. Three cycles of the Ring will be on stage between May 29 and June 26, 2010.

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):