Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Oh Brother...

May 13, 2010

John Treleaven in LAO's Siegfried
Photo: Monika Rittershaus/LAO 2010

What can I say about this. It shouldn’t come as a surprise really. Historically, it's more the rule than the exception that performers in Ring cycles have long lists of complaints about the productions in which they’ve been cast. It’s really too bad that Linda Watson and John Treleaven’s unprofessionalism may tarnish what is essentially a fantastic and groundbreaking production of the Ring. They are certainly entitled to their opinions about the artistic value and demanding physical challenges in the production. Freyer’s love of steeply raked stages is well known and I imagine maneuvering on it can be pretty difficult. The changing demands on any opera singer’s physical habitus is a well-documented fact at this point in time. And it’s certainly about more than just beauty. We want performers who can sing, act, look good while doing both, and who are able to do more physically challenging feats on stage as well. Treleaven and Watson are by no means in the best physical shape of their lives, based on their recent stage appearances, and the entire casts’ safety should be a primary concern.

As for the artistic values of the production – these complaints are exhibit A why performers are not usually hired to direct their own opera productions. The costumes and masks in Freyer’s Ring may well interfere with the acting and vocal performances of the cast including Treleaven and Watson. I suspect, however, that both artists may be overestimating the quality of those skills generally, considering how mediocre they’ve been here in L.A. in Wagner productions in the past that gave their “acting” more leeway.

It’s too bad that these two opera stars can’t be a little more graceful. Give me Joyce DiDonato any day. She’s suffered through injuries and challenging productions herself in the last year, and has had the ability to talk about them publicly on her own blog with wit, class, and the upmost professionalism.



I just read this article about ten minutes ago. I understand their concerns about the stage; singing on that steep rake could be hazardous at any age and in any physical condition.

For the rest - what you said. And Treleaven should be grateful that the production's many beauties and mysteries distract the audience from his singing, which I bet is lousy on the world's flattest stage.
You've got a point. Another thing that strikes me as odd about this- none of the physical aspects of the production should have been a surprise to anyone at this late date given all of the prior performances as far back as spring 2009. If everyone thought it was so unsafe, why not back out then as opposed to crab about it now. The article indicates that other performers like Gordon Hawkins backed out without too much trouble. Others like Michelle De Young reportedly haven't been too happy either, and yet she signed up for even more grief when given the opportunity by singing Sieglinde in the cycles. Granted I'm sure there are all sorts of contractual and other pressures, but if one was really concerned for one's safety, wouldn't you start to look elsewhere for work? Is everyone that hard up for cash?
Yes, I agree - they could have backed out or tried to back out earlier in the run, or when they first saw the production design.

I think there's a complicated calculus going on about which gigs to accept and which to reject. This is a high-profile production; it's getting a ton of publicity; it's controversial. Any singer in it will be noticed and get lots of attention. If Watson and Treleaven want more of a foothold in the US, they might try to stay regardless.

The question then becomes, why complain ON THE RECORD about the production, if you've thought about it and decided to stay? Some budding Siegfried or Brunnhilde is out there just waiting to grab the job, I bet, though I have to admit that covers for Siegfried are not exactly thick on the ground.

As long as I'm saying what I thought of their singing, Watson was extremely uneven the day I saw her. Sometimes she sounded great, sometimes she sounded right at the edge of her voice, and not in a good or exciting way.

And as long as were talking about Hawkins...he is in the SF Ring, and I assume that you got Fink because Hawkins dropped out. I hope he's good, because I know Fink is a great Alberich.
The complaining on the record business is a quandary and I suspect there is more back story to this than meets the eye.

The singing has been a mixed bag, though I admit I've like both much more here than in Tristan und Isolde.
I've been a supernumerary on lots of raked stages over the years, and though I've never had any problem with them personally, they were extremely painful for others with any kind of knee, foot, back or joint problems. Having said that, there have been a few raked stages that just felt plain dangerous because of the entrances and exits, the lighting, or the masks/costumes where you can't see where the hell you're going. If the performers are complaining about it now, the set really might be a serious problem.

PS: Saw Dudamel in SF on Monday and you have all my sympathies.
"It’s really too bad that Linda Watson and John Treleaven’s unprofessionalism may tarnish [...]"

MAY tarnish? Sorry man, but this Ring has been tarnished years ago already. Even people I know who have no clue about opera know that there is a circus going on in LA right now, a hubbub that doesn't do anything for opera except give reporters something to daily write about. Yawn.
sfmike, hah. Brian, did you see Joshua Kosman's review of that concert? It's here.
controversy and opposing opinions are GOOD for art -- and opera. Just YOU try moving around and singing for hours on a stage like that. I vote for Treleaven's opinion, and as a longterm RingNut, wouldn't spend the dough to see this Ring, thanks.
While I agree that expressing opposing opinions is good, I think that where and when you express those opinions matters. Undercutting coworkers in public is not the same as expressing differences of opinion for the greater good.

As for my appearing on stage - I wouldn't do it. See, I realize that I am not physically capable of doing such a job and would make that clear before accepting it to begin with. Had I not known in advance what I was in for, I would exit any situation that presented a real concern for my safety or my ability to do the job adequately. But that's just me.
These singers completely lack tact. They should just leave the production if they are so against it. How am I as an audience member or their fellow collaborators supposed to view them after this! Surely they could have waited till AFTER the Ring to air their views. These two are not team players. This is bad sportsmanship. They should resign from the production.

I will loudly, and with great gusto, be booing these two when they come out for their bows.
No matter what anyone says, and they say a lot-- especially the portion that seems to always be demanding Domingo's head on a stake no matter what LA Opera-related news gets published-- I think these two come off as wankers. If the production is unsafe for singers, that sucks and I do hope that someone takes notice. But it doesn't make these two come off looking any better. Just plain wankery, especially the quotes from Treleaven.
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