Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Flaunt the Imperfection

March 23, 2010

From Act III of Siegfried
Photo: Monika Rittershaus/LAO 2010

I’m headed to New York later this week for a whole slew of operas including the Metropolitan Opera’s new productions of The Nose, Attila, and Hamlet as well as BAM’s new import of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen from Glyndebourne. But, honestly, even with all that awaits me next weekend, I’m nowhere near as excited about any of it as I am about what is going on at L.A. Opera over the next few months. On April 3 the company will premiere it’s new production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung for a run of five performances. Make no mistake, this is a huge accomplishment for the company on many levels. Götterdämmerung will be the final leg of the new Ring cycle directed by German artist Achim Freyer and, with the production’s premiere, LA Opera will have helped create a major new production that is artistically unique and incredibly satisfying. It will have done this in a region of the country where opera doesn’t enjoy the kind of support it does in other cities with much older sponsoring organizations and with a local audience that is still learning about the joys of German opera in general. That the Ring will be completed here is a minor miracle.

I had a chance to see a bit of a working rehearsal last week and speak to some of the many artists and technicians working on this homestretch of a multi-year journey. I was taken with the sheer excitement they expressed over the project and its completion. It has not always been easy going. The look of Götterdämmerung is what you might expect if you’ve seen any of the previous operas in the cycle with masks and costumes that are as much sculpture as they are clothing. Everything is unique so very little of what you see on stage is the kind of thing one might rent from a prop or costume warehouse. Technicians have designed dozens of lighting tubes and props out of multi-color LED strips, foam and plastic tubing. Video art has been created and sequenced for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of new projection equipment. And all of this has occurred in what sounds like an intensely dynamic production environment. Freyer’s vision is one that involves a primitive, rough-hewn appearance and incorporates a big dose of Brechtian imperfection in the mix. The haphazard look of things is intentional and as one senior technician put it to me, Freyer often makes multiple changes to things after they’ve been set – not as a mark of indecision, but one that is driven to prevent things from looking too polished or perfected. And while this sounds like an intensive process, it’s also one that has produced some great results judging from the first three operas in the cycle that arrived in 2009. The full cycles of the four operas will begin on May 29, and to help entice more local audience members who may have issues with weekday performances, I’m told the company will soon be offering “design your own” cycles allowing people to chose operas from different cycles to complete their sequence of the four.

Of course, not to be forgotten in all of this is the U.S. premiere of Franz Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, or “The Stigmatized”, on April 10th. Shreker’s opera is the latest in James Conlon’s “Recovered Voices” project featuring the works of composers effected adversely by the rise of the Third Reich in early 20th-century Germany. This is the first any of Schreker's operas will be performed in the U.S., and the cast will feature a number of L.A. favorites, including Anja Kampe who delivered a superb Sieglinde here in 2009. Since the opera will run concurrently with Freyer’s Götterdämmerung, the new production will be mounted onto of the steeply raked Ring set and will be directed by Ian Judge. There will only be four performances, but this is musically a very beautiful opera based on what I’ve heard and seen from available recordings. So while this is a bit premature of my April event preview that will appear next week, these are events worth mentioning more than once.



The somewhat frail and weak orchestral sound need to have improved greatly to get me to another part of this 'Ring'. Rheingold was deeply underwhelming.
I think the sound issue has improved greatly since Rheingold. Granted the Dorothy Chandler is nobody's acoustical dream setting. But following the initial Rheingold outing, the team uncovered the orchestra pit and moved it up opening up the sound greatly. It's a mistake to judge this cycle by those initial Rheingold performances. Don't take my word for it, check out Gotterdammerung this month.
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