Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Oh The Places You'll Go

June 04, 2010

John Treleaven and Vitalij Kowaljow in Act III of Siegfried
Photo: Monika Rittershaus/LAO 2009

Wagner’s Siegfried returned to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Wednesday as Los Angeles Opera carried on with its first compete Ring cycle following Sunday’s Die Walküre performance. And, although the time between the regular subscription run of Siegfried last Fall and now was less than the time away for the two prior installments of the Ring, there are far more changes to Siegfried in this return engagement than with its predecessors. Achim Freyer has kept the overall visual elements the same, but large amounts of the stage business in all three acts has been revised often in favor of simpler, sharper movements. As over the weekend, the staging seems tighter with improved cues and lighting that sometimes feels as if it has been totally reworked. Some of the biggest changes concern Siegfried’s interaction with the dragon Fafner in Act II, which still relies on an anachronistic cartoon dragon for Fafner, but is now embodied by one of Freyer's movement ensemble members who spends much more time on stage in a costume than the puppet had previously. There were several alterations in the third Act as well that maintained the overall visual sense of the production, but like the change in the dragon, somewhat blunted the more alienating edges of Freyer’s prior ideas.

That is not to say that Siegfried doesn't look like its brethren. It’s still a visually brilliant and totally unique production that willfully ignores the tropes of staging Wagner's operas in the last half-Century. And, while I know several people disagree with me, I still believe that Siegfried is perhaps the most compelling opera of this whole production. Wagner’s third installment of the Ring story can be bogged down with both disparate plot elements and a central character modern audiences have trouble understanding. It is also often the most likely to musically disappoint. But Freyer views Siegfried as primarily about linear motion and a race to the end resulting in his keen focus on the flow of time in the opera’s libretto. Even when Siegfried is laying around the forest floor playing music for the birds, the heat is on in this world. The Force of Destiny is never absent from the stage in any minute of these several hours and the pressure towards these events on the characters is relentless.

Musically, things were a little bumpier on Thursday than they had been over the weekend. Siegfried was sung by John Treleaven, which was somewhat of a mixed blessing. The good news was that after bad-mouthing the production and the company to the press a couple weeks back, he still showed up to sing. The bad news was, he still showed up to sing. Even before his voice was gone in Act III, you were kind of wishing it was anyway. Linda Watson’s Brünnhilde seems primed to take pity on him when she arrives by keeping her voice down somewhat. There was little noticeable booing directed toward Treleaven, so apparently people were not focused on his singing. The rest of the cast, however, shined, including Vitalji Kowaljow as Wotan and Graham Clark as Mime. The orchestra was again fairly driven, compared to last Fall, but seemed a little more scrappy on Thursday than I might have liked. Still, this Ring cycle is an event to be sure. Thursday's audience had even gotten celebritied-up with the faces of Quentin Tarantino and Christoph Waltz.


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