Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Ring Tones

October 12, 2006

The burning ring of fire from Siegfried. Photo:
Lawrence K. Ho/LAT 2006

Los Angeles, like all urban centers, is a sort of laboratory for the collision of very different people, ideas, and cultures. Those of us wondering what Wagner would sound like with a Russian accent had all our questions answered last week. This occurred in the form of the Kirov Opera’s current touring production of Der Ring des Nibelungen, which wrapped up on Wednesday. Much had been made of this event due to a host of factors- it is the first major staging of the Ring in Southern California and it took place during a two week residency of the Kirov Opera and Ballet in Orange County as part of the celebrations for the opening of the new Renée and Henry Sergerstrom Concert Hall. Although the operas were staged in the "old" Segerstrom Hall right across the street, much attention has been payed to the new building which I'll talk about in a later post.

Needless to say, with all the hype, it was no surprise that audiences were highly enthusiastic throughout the series. Gergiev and his cast were met with wild standing ovations night after night. But what hath Gergiev and Wagner actually wrought?

As I have previously noted, the best part about the whole week was that it was far from boring. Between the primitive staging and enthusiastic conducting, things were always lively. While Gergiev's approach kept the performance moving and active, there was a definite trade off. In more action-packed parts like the opening of Act III of Die Walküre or Act II of Siegfried, the excitement was palapable. However, some of the more lyrical and reflective moments suffered. The darkly beautiful quality of Wagner's score was often sacrificed at the expense of gusto.

Plácido domingo as Siegmund and Mlada Khudoley as Sieglinde. Photo: Christine Cotter/LAT 2006

Die Walküre was the overall standout of the four evening, helped greatly by the strongest overall cast including Domingo's Siegmund and a trio of wonderful women: Mlada Khudoley, Larisa Diadkova, and Olga Sereyeva as Sieglinde, Fricka, and Brunnhilde respectively. Sergeyeva would continue the role throughout the final two operas and was definitely Kirov's star player outside of Gergiev, even though she gave out in the final act of Götterdämmerung. This is particularly notable within a production that downplayed individual contributions in favor of the overall group effort. The Kirov appeared to operate much like the old Hollywood studio system where the players are Kirov members first, and performers second. Little definitive information about the casting was available until the day of each performance, and a program insert contained the final details – in each case with significant changes over the original printed program. There were many changes in roles from night to night. Most notable among these were the two Siegfrieds, each with their own talents- Lionid Zakhozhaev, the actor, in Siegfried and Viktor Lutsyuk, the singer, in Götterdämmerung. If only it would have been possible to fuse them in some laboratory experiment to get a little of both in one person at the same time.

Probably the biggest drawback to this studio system approach appeared to be the lack of clear stage direction. Too many of the cast were left to their own devices in the acting department. Apparently, the "I coulda had a V8" commercial serves as an impetus for an entire generation of Russian actors. Who knew?

Despite all of this – the significant drive times to the OC, the German accents straight out of Vladivostok, 20 hours in the architectural equivalent of a Nagel painting, and supernumiaries plucking a chicken in the midst of Act II of Götterdämmerung – I would do it again in a minute. It was exciting, it was Wagner, and it only happens every so often, especially in these parts.

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