Monday, October 5, 2009

Enter the Dragon

Siegfried brings LAOpera's Ring closer to home

Linda Watson, Brunnhilde; John Treleaven, Siegfried

by Donna Perlmutter

If Siegfried is a scherzo, as some have suggested, then Achim Freyer’s gnomic depiction of it, as the third episode of Wagner’s Ring for Los Angeles Opera, is a race on a running track.

Just picture it: lanes outlined in neon white, then, blue and a sign pointing Ost (east) tell us that the characters, each in search of the be-all-end-all gold and/or love, will stay confined in their blindered paths, trudging toward a goal. And so they do.

Because director Freyer keeps his graphic novel of a concept in hand. He doesn’t stray, but brings back all the same wildly imaginative motifs – Wotan’s giant eye popping out of black spaces within the proscenium arch, his face-covering floppy felt hat and drapey coat (now carried on his spear), the dark background that absorbs bright cartoon-like costumes and fright wigs, the slow-moving, unlit figures somnolently making their way across stage amidst the other action, the raked stage on which the whole enterprise plays out.

Yes, to begin with, we’re in a strange fairyland. The titular hero is a young upstart who knows no fear, and despises and disdains the venal dwarf who raised him. Others wait to see how the race turns out: will Siegfried lead them to their respective desired end?

Freyer mixes it all up and nowhere better than at the end of Act I, when a kind of tumult arises, brilliantly in sync with the full orchestral fireworks, as the floor disc starts to spin with everyone assembled on it while prop embellishments suddenly get swept into the scene.

Traditionalists resolutely abhor Freyer’s cosmic circus, one whose characters operate on somewhat individual trajectories with very little human interaction -- they are not persons, you know, but universal entities. But while he mostly sticks to his conceptual horses, one can see small liberties being taken here compared to Rheingold and Walküre.

For instance, Siegfried’s guardian Mime takes off his head mask every time he wants to address an aside to the audience (and how clever that Freyer seizes on and marks these lines as asides, letting the character step out of the frame to make a wonderfully theatrical point). So, too, does Wotan (aka the Wanderer) carry his head mask rather than wear it, re-defining the all-seeing god as a tad more human.

Even some cast members bettered themselves this time around. Linda Watson as Brünnhilde was in terrific voice opening night, her darkish soprano sounding powerful, colossal really, and even from top to bottom. Of course, the toughest task of this five-hour marathon fell to John Treleaven, who, just for getting through it as well as he did, deserves kudos.

Sure, his tenor cracked slightly a few times at the end but all in all, he gave a heroic if not thrilling performance. With his commedia d’ell arte white-face, blond wig of plastic stand-up curls, his trompe l’oeil painted chest of ribs and muscles, he was the show’s standout cartoon. But that didn’t stop him from successfully deriding Mime, sung by the masterly Graham Clark, who brought out this foster father’s yippingly gleeful nefariousness. What’s more, he fairly salivated through his nasal tones describing the plots he was up to.

As before, Vitalij Kowaljow made a deeply sonorous Wanderer, while Oleg Bryjak, Jill Grove, Eric Halfvarson and Stacey Tappan sang affectingly. James Conlon coaxed from the orchestra both sweeping tenderness, ferocity and grandeur aplenty.

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