Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Fade to Black

June 07, 2010

John Treleaven in Act III of Götterdämmerung
Photo: Monika Rittershaus/LAO 2010

It is not a common occurrence in my opera-going experience for a stage director of any stripe to receive the largest ovation from the audience at the end of the evening. And perhaps that is as it should be, but at the end of Götterdämmerung on Sunday night and the completion of the Los Angeles Opera’s first complete presentation of a Ring cycle, that is precisely what happened, at least to my ear. Now that does not mean that it was a unanimously positive and supportive ovation. There was certainly booing and people eager to express their displeasure over a production that was not what many of them may be used to or had expected. But from where I sat toward the front of the orchestra the enthusiastic cheers were by far in the majority. The truth of the matter is that our local company stuck out its neck, took some risks and some hits from a variety of quarters, and has walked away with much more than just another opera production, but a serious and— I would argue—ground-breaking, work of art. Like virtually all worthwhile art, it generates some controversy and some heated and divergent opinions about its worth. But make no mistake, people are talking about Freyer’s Ring cycle and from the sound of the audience, people actually care about it passionately, although not always in the same direction. The world may have ended on stage, but it was clearly just getting started in the minds of the audience.

Götterdämmerung is predictably the least changed of the Ring operas from its prior L.A. appearance just two months ago. I’ll admit I’ve warmed up to it quite a bit since then. I’m more enamored with the intentionally distancing elements of this most static of the productions in this cycle including the wonderful unraveling of the theatrical world at the end. There’s something powerful about listening to the final bars of the Ring sitting in complete darkness with the audience. I’ve listened to so many live performances of this particular opera where an overly enthusiastic audience destroys the end of the opera with eager applause. Not here. Freyer ingeniously puts the music center stage right at the end. As Freyer states in his program notes, the empty dark space at the end isn’t simply death, it’s empty potential space we’re asked to fill with the new human world (and theater) in the wake of the death of the gods.

There were other big ovations on Sunday. James Conlon and the orchestra received a great amount of love from everyone. Of the vocalists, Eric Halfvarson’s Hagen and Linda Watson’s Brünnhilde were favorites. And rightly so. Watson’s Götterdämmerung Brünnhilde is the strongest of her roles across these evenings and she is unquestionably most convincing exactly when she needs to be as the world is coming down around her. As much as I resent the unprofessional behavior she and John Treleaven exhibited leading up to this run by bad-mouthing the production in the press, I do feel a certain sympathy for everyone in the production. I’m sure it is a challenge to sing in this staging, not only due to its steeply raked stage, but also due to the fact that the set’s floor is often covered with multiple objects from wrinkled fabric to LED tubes. Watson tripped once during the show and both Richard Paul Fink and Jill Grove had seemingly minor tumbles during the curtain calls. But everyone's perseverance is paying off with one hell of a production. The cycle repeats two more times starting Tuesday the 8th and again on Friday the 18th of June. Don't miss out.


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