Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Seeing is Believing

May 31, 2010

Linda Watson faces an angry Wotan with her sisters
Photo: Monika Rittershaus/LAO 2009

On Sunday in L.A., there was Die Walküre. It’s not news, I know, but I continue to be amazed by Achim Freyer’s cabinet of wonders on stage at the Dorothy Candler Pavilion. It is dark yet colorful and filled with light. It is both sharply stylistic and intentionally primitive and rough-hewn. The second day of the first cycle was marked with many of the strengths of the first. Everything looked visually much tighter to me than the production’s prior outing and Act III opened with one of the most effective Ride of the Valkyries I’ve seen. This is much more than eight women standing around shrieking in armor—these are angels of death. Meanwhile, James Conlon and the orchestra again delivered a much more ferocious attack on the score than I remember from last spring. The singing was solid if not transcendent. Placido Domingo continues to be far better as Siegmund than any comparable human ought to be. Michelle DeYoung has taken over as Sieglinde for the cycle from Anja Kampe and managed to stay clear and bright above the fray. Vitalij Kowaljow’s Wotan would fit nicely on any of the world’s biggest opera stages. Linda Watson’s Die Walküre Brünnhilde is not her strong suit with more shrieking than one might like. But she has the requisite power and stays in tune which is nice. I think she typically fares better later in the cycle where her tendency to play all emotions as regal indignation makes more sense in the context of the libretto.

As my regular readers know, I’ve said plenty about my admiration for this Ring. But there is one other name that has not come up as often as it should in the discussion that I was reminded of this weekend. The commemorative programs from each evening’s performance have included a portfolio of Monika Rittershaus’ lovely photographs of the production. Also included is a lovely dedication of these images from Freyer to Edgar Baitzel (the former Chief Operations Officer of Los Angeles Opera and a friend to Domingo and many others in the company) who died in 2007. It was largely through his work and perseverance that this particular production happened at all, and its quality and vision are a testament to his work. Although I’d never met him, I’ve thought of him this weekend as I’ve listened to the highly enthusiastic reception of the audience to these performances. The elderly out-of-town couple sitting next to me on Saturday asked me if I liked the production. I said I did and asked what their thoughts were. They told me that they were very apprehensive about the production having heard “so many negative things” and seeing the pictures of the production they had before hand. They noted how surprised they have been with their enjoyment of the production after actually seeing it live. Freyer and the many artists involved in the production have gotten them to thinking of something familiar in a new way. And while I have no scientific data to prove they are or aren’t in the majority of viewers, I would say that Mr. Baitzel would be very happy to know, this was the end result of his effort to bring Wagner’s Ring cycle here to L.A. in the way that he did. What can I say? If you’re not seeing this cycle, you are missing out.



I would really like to see this (being nowhere near LA). I am not sure what to make of it, having seen only photos and a few short promotional videos. The photos of the costumes look really surreal, in a good way. I love how imaginative and colorful they look and like the unproportional dimensions. But I wonder whether they are better seen static than in motion. Also, the videos I've seen make the production look incredibly dark, and I'm not sure how well you can even see these great costumes, or if they lose their storybook-feel when they appear "neon". I can see how singers might feel 'small' in a production like this, and while I like nothing better than a small chamber-like setting where singers are everything, I think there is room for all kinds of productions, and with Wagner especially, where music is the main character, I can see staging taking a vital role.
In any case, thanks for writing so extensively on it.

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