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May 29, 2010

Outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Photo: mine 2010

It may not be a cash cow and it may not make all of its star performers happy, but Los Angeles Opera’s Ring Cycle is officially on as of today. It’s been a difficult birth and even on Saturday there were plenty “only in LA” moments including a small band of college-age protesters who circled the music center at least once with signs featuring such slogans as “Wagner. Loved by Nazis. Rejected by humans.” Before they dispersed, I was struck with such envy of that youthful ease of dividing the world into good and evil. It isn’t until much later when we realize how compromised we all are in weighing that balance that we actually get to appreciate art like Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Over those many hours we see gods and humans alike struggle with these very distinctions only to find tragedy and perhaps the hope of redemption somewhere near the end.

But regardless of the circus, there was opera at hand. Das Rheingold returned to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage in its first appearance in over a year with pent up energy and an almost edgy stance from just about everyone involved. Whether this was a response to a constant stream of bickering bad news about the production generated in the local papers, or just the excitement of having arrived at the end of a very long road wasn’t clear. Conductor and music director James Conlon flew at the score with abandon and an almost Gergiev-like intensity. This was not a measured and reflective approach but a "let's do this" take on things. On top of this, three of the principal stars in Das Rheingold, Richard Paul Fink as Alberich, Arnold Bezuyen as Loge, and Graham Clark as Mime all gave high energy and very physical performances proving that even with a mask on all evening, it’s still entirely possible to give a great vocal and acting performance. (A lesson that should be well taken by others in the cast who’ve complained about limitations placed upon their artistic selves with little more than some face paint.)

Alberich and Mime in Das Rheingold
Photo: Monika Rittershaus/LAO 2009

The Achim Freyer staging is still very much a work of art and continues to draw in viewers willing to open their eyes to its beauty. The production has been somewhat streamlined since its initial run with tighter cues, some reduction in stage business in the second scene, and a now uncovered orchestra pit. It still works on virtually every level and couldn’t be more Wagnerian. But don’t take it from me. Perhaps some of the best words describing the staging have come from Freyer himself who provides these notes in the program:
The overarching themes for “Das Rheingold” are pre-history without time, the planes of the elements, [and] horizontal overlapping. For “Die Walküre”: divine circular time and immortality, pursuit and escape, circle and spiral. For “Siefgfried”: parallel and perspective timelines as paths, mortality, waiting and beginning. For “Götterdämmerung: racing inertia, super-space and –time, multiplication and overlapping of all dimensions.

The Tarnhelm, shadows, reflections, doubles and the different forms in which figures appear in any given moment reflect their personality schisms, the search for and loss of identity of all the characters. We are talking here of pre-history, for which there do not exist familiar images or symbols in our everyday world. It is a timeless world only made visible and intelligible through art and theater.

Thmelessness was Wagner’s dictum for the Ring. In his lifetime, he remained unsatisfied with its world premiere and subsequent scenic experiments. Nonetheless, to this day historicizing Ring interpretations have been traditionalized, which has infringed and continues to infringe upon Wagner’s dictum to this day.
Freyer's vision of the Ring takes Wagner at his word about being timeless. This is a vision that exists outside of time in part because it looks like nothing we know right now in either opera or the real world. The audience seemed to connect to the performance and gave one of the most enthusiastic receptions I've yet heard to any of the Ring opera performances in L.A. Best of all, things are just getting started.



Thanks so much for all your writing on this. I can't wait to see it!
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