Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

A Festive Occasion

April 08, 2010

Sketch of Loge by Achim Freyer for the LA Opera production of Wagner's Ring Cycle

So L.A. Opera has put together a ground-breaking one of a kind musical theater experience with the new Achim Freyer-directed staging of Wagner’s Ring cycle. So now what do you do? Well first and foremost, if you don’t have tickets to one of the cycles that start on May 28th, you should get them. There are virtually no excuses not to, now that the company has made “design-you-own” cycles available that allow you to see all of the four operas on the weekends, and better yet, at a much reduced cost over the initial ticket offering. Having seen all of the operas if there is one thing I do know, it’s that you do not want to miss this. This is especially true if you have any passing interest in cutting edge theater. Or even if you don't.

So now that you have your tickets, what do you do between now and June? Well, luckily, not all of the Ring excitement is in the opera house this year as L.A. Opera and a large consortium of local arts organizations have put together Ring Festival L.A. with coordinated events related to this unique local undertaking. There’s a lot of events to choose from between now and the end of June, so here’s my guide to the festival events that should be highest priority. More details for all of these events including details about any potential cost (many are free) and need for reservations or tickets can be found on the festival’s website.

Sketch of Erda by Achim Freyer for the LA Opera production of Wagner's Ring Cycle

Why not start by hearing straight from the proverbial horses mouth. Of course Wagner is dead, so start with the production’s legendary director, Achim Freyer. He’ll be making two appearances at the Goethe Institut on Wilshire in conversation with music journalist Matthew Gurewitsch on April 12 and June 4 talking about his concepts for the Ring production. If you’d like to hear more about Wagner and his music, you couldn’t do much better than L.A. Opera’s Music Director James Conlon who’ll be speaking all over town in numerous venues. Conlon has proven to be the city’s biggest musical asset since the departure of Esa-Pekka Salonen, and his desire and ability to communicate with the public about music is unparalleled. And where won’t he be. Conlon will appear in lectures both individually and part of larger conferences at the Hammer Museum on April 13, the Museum of Tolerance on the April 15, downtown’s Central Library on April 19, USC’s Bing Theater on April 20, LACMA on June 5, American Jewish University on June 6 (on a panel that includes Gottfried Wagner, the composer’s great-grandson), the Huntington Library on June 9, and the Getty Museum on June 19. The topics of these presentations vary from music and myth to Wagner’s anti-Semitism and some are part of longer day-long symposia, so you may want to check the particulars of each event before you go.

There will also be a number of noted academics and artists in town to talk about the Ring and different philosophical and artistic issues that stem from it. Most notably UCLA and the Hammer Museum will present a conference on June 1 and 2 and a lecture on May 28 with Alain Badiou, Fredric Jameson, and Slavoj Žižek. Yes, Slavoj Žižek. His book on Mozart and Wagner Opera’s Second Death comes highly recommended for those of you interested in a Lacanian perspective on Wagner's operas. On a very different end of the spectrum, REDCAT downtown will host a panel on all things Ring with legendary opera director Peter Sellars, video artist Bill Viola, and neuroscientist Antonio Damasio on May 30.

Sketch of Siegfried and Brünnhilde by Achim Freyer for the LA Opera production of Wagner's Ring Cycle

Ring Festival events aren’t all talk, though. There’s performance, too, including James Conlon conducting the Colburn Orchestra on April 12. There are two modern takes on Wagner’s music, one from Daedelus who performs a remix at the Broad Stage on April 17 and another from daKAH Hip Hop Orchestra at California Plaza on June 19. The Jacaranda concert series in Santa Monica will present “Prussian Blues” on May 22 looking at Wagner’s precursors and followers. Lyric Opera Los Angeles will return after an extended hiatus with four performances of Wagner’s first opera, Die Feen starting in June 11. And, if you can't get enough early Wagner, the musicians of the USC Thornton School of Music will present three performances of Das Liebesverbot starting on April 21. Meanwhile the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist will present recitals in various locations on May 23, June 18, and June 25. Perhaps the non-Ring performance I’m most excited about in the festival, though, is the recital appearance from American soprano Christine Brewer who will close out the 09/10 L.A. Philharmonic season at Walt Disney Concert Hall with, among other things, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. And, even if you can’t afford to see any of the Ring Operas in June, take heart. All four will be broadcast on KUSC starting on May 29 over the next few weeks. So, don’t let the parade pass you by.


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