Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

More Gött

June 16, 2010

Wednesday is the final performance in L.A. Opera’s second complete Ring Cycle. I have very bittersweet feelings about going since it is likely my last exposure to this production, which as many of you know, I absolutely love and admire. But opera lovers do not live by the Ring alone, and I’m headed up to San Francisco this weekend to catch the summer offerings in the Bay area including the well-reviewed Francesca Zambello production of Die Walküre which will hopefully help me deal with my Wagner withdrawal. For those of you getting ready to start the final cycle on Friday, I have nothing but envy so let me offer you two more stars of the cycle to watch for.

Jennifer Wilson as Gutrune and Alan Held as Gunther
Photo: Monika Rittershaus/LAO 2010

American soprano Jennifer Wilson and bass-baritone Alan Held are two well regarded vocalists who show up in the Ring only in the final chapter as the brother and sister act of Gutrune and Gunther. As with other on stage performers in the production, they appear in masks throughout their entire performances, emphasizing their characters' displacement from the world of gods and monsters around them. Jennifer Wilson is a bright sounding and crystalline Wagnerian soprano who is likely among the next cohort of major international stars who sing the roles of Isolde and Brünnhilde. She’s already regularly covering these roles for more established stars whose days, shall we say, are clearly numbered in this repertoire. I first saw Wilson step in as Isolde in Chicago last year with little notice and she performed admirably, singing as well as more than a couple first-stringers I’ve seen in the part. She’s also raised her profile by appearing as Brünnhilde in the notable Ring cycle filmed in Valencia, Spain in a production by La Fura dels Baus, which you can sample above. And while she doesn’t have quite so much to do here in Los Angeles, she throws herself into the stage business, both comical and serious, Freyer has laid out for her character here, including managing a number of “wardrobe malfunctions” caused by an amorous Siegfried.

Jennifer Wilson

Wilson’s on-stage brother Gunther is played by one of my favorite bass-baritones, Alan Held. He’s another of those vocalists, I feel is ever present in my opera-going experience and I wonder why he isn’t a much bigger star than he already is. His Wozzeck which I saw in New York in 2005 comes to mind as well as his performance as Wagner’s Höllander and Offenbach’s Four Villains. He’s no stranger to any number of Ring roles as well, and his Gunther here in Los Angeles is both pitiable and strangely touching. I am struck by Held’s ability to deliver a substantial performance without being able to rely on facial expression to communicate with the audience. As much complaining as some folks have done about Freyer’s use of masks in this production, it’s remarkable to watch these singing actors flex their acting muscles by producing quality performances in the context of these restraints. We’re lucky to have Held back in Los Angeles and I for one hope he’s back again soon.

Alan Held


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