Or at least that was the perspective of Achim Freyer, the director of LA Opera’s monumental staging of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen
, which completes its run today at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I’d heard him speak on at least three occasions in L.A. during his time here and was fortunate enough to see nine of the twelve individual performances in the Ring cycle presentations this month. I'm not going to make it to tonight's final Götterdämmerung
due to some family obligations, but I'll definitely be there in spirit. Things have changed a lot over the course of the development and execution of this cycle, not only in terms of economic reality but also in terms of the increasingly positive response audiences have had to the show. As has been widely noted, LA Opera did not sell all the tickets they had hoped. But, undoubtedly, as the cycles started in June, the dynamic in the house began to change. The crowds became progressively louder and more enthusiastic not only about the musical aspects of the production, which is to be expected, but more and more over the theatrical aspects as well. Freyer, who has attended all of the performances could be seen after some of the shows toward the end mobbed by admirers and fans. Some of the performances in the last cycle did sell out. The people in the audience were not your typical opera crowd. The number of younger folks with tight jeans and pink hair clearly outnumbered those with oxygen machines and those funny plastic horned helmets a certain generation of Ring fans like to wear.
Most of the commemorative souvenirs offered up by the Opera League were long gone by the time the third and final cycle got underway. Moreover, the resourceful company took advantage of the presence of an enthusiastic audience by raising funds through a costume sale. Specifically, many of the prototype costumes designed and hand-painted by Freyer and his daughter as part of the earliest rehearsals for the Ring many years ago were offered up to the public. They were gone over the course of two performances, and I was lucky enough to snag a couple of these one-of-a-kind mementos for myself. (Yes that’s me in the accompanying photos festooned with a Gibichung mask, prototype Alberich coat sans bloody, ripped-off arm, and magnificent red Siegfried chest.)
Sadly, a video recording of the production will not be among my reminders of these performances, a particular sore point for many in the crowd and the company itself. It would be nice to see the production filmed in a later outing when funds may be more available, but honestly I’m not so sure that it would work anyway. Like most great stage productions, Freyer’s vision won’t look very good with standard video technique. This is not a show about up close faces and small physical gestures. It’s dependent on large scale sweeping video images and spaces around and between performers. But hopefully the production will live on, especially here in L.A. LA Opera’s COO Stephen Rountree was quoted earlier stating that the production would not be revived until 2018 at the earliest. Even that seems like a long wait, though probably a realistic time frame given the cost of mounting the cycle overall. But remount it they should and hopefully with more willing and able principals than this time around. (Why not sign up Jennifer Wilson, the current staging’s Gutrune, for Brünnhilde now? She can certainly sing it as she has proven elsewhere and she already knows plenty about getting around that highly raked stage.)
Regardless of video or future revivals, though, LA Opera has produced something remarkable and important. Freyer, music director James Conlon, and the entire company and cast created a landmark production and a true work of art. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t cheap, and it certainly came with truckloads of controversy. But I know, for me at least, the production was both completely satisfying and it was hugely influential on my thinking about opera and theater in ways that I’m only beginning to understand. Already I’ve had the experience of seeing other performances I know that I would have raved about a year ago that in the wake of this Ring leave me cold. I’ve seen plenty of operas and certainly other Ring cycles in the flesh, but this was different. Or, as I overheard the couple next to me last Wednesday say, they’d seen the Ring on two occasions before in Seattle, but had never looked forward to the individual performances the way they had here in L.A. Freyer’s Ring matters because, along with a few other productions in the last decade, it is one of the first to break free of the long shadow Patrice Chereau has cast over Wagner’s operas in the last three decades. Freyer’s vision is not just another Regietheater sociopolitical adaptation of Wagner’s work. It’s also not just a reactionary response to Chereau like Schenk’s wooded fairytale that has finally exited stage right in New York. Freyer’s vision is unique, demanding its own terms for a rendering that is traditional but never conventional. And though life goes on, I for one am going to miss living in that world, though I suspect like most great theater, its memory will live on for me in all kinds of ways.
Labels: LA Opera 09/10