Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ring of Freyer (II)

LA Opera concludes Wagner's Ring Cycle with Siegfried and Götterdämmerung

The Norns-----------------------------------Photo: Monika Rittershaus

by Rodney Punt

With this entry, LA Opus concludes its main coverage of LA Opera's Ring Cycle. General Director Plácido Domingo and Music Director James Conlon have achieved much in the last decade, not the least of which is to demonstrate to the world that our company can successfully undertake the largest projects in the repertoire. Not just the Ring but also the Recovered Voices project required vision, planning, and resources.

In an earlier posting we outlined Ring director/designer Achim Freyer's previous work in Los Angeles, as well as the decade-long rocky (and risky) path LA Opera tread just to mount the monumental work [Link]. We followed that with a conceptual overview of the current Freyer production, and then individual reviews of the first two operas in the tetralogy, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre [Link]. My colleague Donna Perlmutter had reviewed Siegfried [Link] and Götterdämmerung [Link] in the earlier regular season, stand-alone productions.

This entry provides short updates on the recent full cycle renditions of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung and concludes with reflections on what all this means for LA Opera and its future.


Siegfried at Brünnhilde's rock--------------Photo: Monika Rittershaus

Mime, Graham Clark
Siegfried, John Treleaven.
The Wanderer, Vitalij Kowaljow
Alberich, Richard Paul Fink
Fafner, Eric Halfvarson
Forest Bird, Stacey Tappan
Erda, Jill Grove
Brünnhilde, Linda Watson

Thursday, June 3, 2010, 6:00 pm, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles

Update review by Rodney Punt

After the detour for the adults in
Die Walküre, Achim Freyer is back on track with his toy-box production in Siegfried. The 76-year-old painter-stage-director sits us grandkids down again and mesmerizes us with this sugarcoated morality tale in the language of comic books. For those who are grown-ups, that language can be jarring until we are ready to adjust perspectives and drift back into a Peter Pan world to let grandpa conjure up the magical journey.

The production is in a groove now. The complicated lighting elements run smoother; the pacing seems fluid and confident, and the cast more at ease. Maestro James Conlon and his orchestra are having fun with Siegfried. It’s almost as if the whimsy of the production has infected everyone with its high jinks. Steven Bicknell’s horn was jaunty in Siegfried’s forest calls. The woodwinds chirped joyously to nature’s giddy sounds. There is a carefree bounce in the orchestra that matches the action on the stage.

Props again took center stage. Fafner’s dragon transformation appears in two versions, the first as a small green toy, as if seen from Siegfried's fearless point of view. I was reminded of those plastic dinosaurs one finds in the bins at Hancock Park’s Page Museum.

The dragon's second version - the one we less heroic mortals might see - comes from the central stage disc, now transformed as Fafner’s mouth. In Das Rheingold the lower diameter had opened up to reveal Nibelheim. This time the upper diameter opens forward to form the gigantic jaws of Fafner, snarling in basso profundo his emphatic possession of the gold hoard.

It is the last time anyone will let him open his big mouth.

The cast is fully on board with the
Ring at this juncture. The unfortunate mud slinging at Achim Freyer over the hazardous staging and controversial conceptualization is now behind the star soloists. John Treleaven and Linda Watson take center stage, and, almost in compensation for their spat having gone public a few weeks ago, the two have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into the spirit of things. They are doing their best work to date in Siegfried. If not forgotten, all is, at least for the moment, forgiven.

For the title role, Achim and Amanda Freyer create a buffed caricature of Aryan cockiness in this Siegfried, a male version of The Dumb Blond. Treleaven embraces the idiotically naive lad as if he had drunk from the Fountain of Youth, no mean feat for a middle-aged singer. His hero is a combination of adolescent confidence and gaucheness. Treleaven has him bouncing around on stage, herky-jerky, afraid of nothing and no one, and sure of his immortality if he could just think that far ahead.

Physically, Treleaven’s Siegfried is nature’s Boy Wonder. Vocally, the years of heldentenor assignments have taken a certain toll on his voice, a noticeable wobble emerging in the more strenuous passages, of which this opera has many. Treleaven is a singer, however, who can pace himself through a long evening and still have enough juice remaining for a third act encounter with a fresh-voiced Brünnhilde.

Awakened Brünnhilde with Siegfried------Photo: Monika Rittershaus

Linda Watson proves herself, once again, a noble singing actress, as
Brünnhilde awakens to embrace the strongest, but surely also the stupidest male in the world. She may out-sing him by a few decibels, but she's definitely smitten with the boy.

Graham Clark's Mime is as deliciously snarky a characterization as we likely have today, his bright tenor sniveling about in the nasty poison plot against Siegfried. It will land him flat on his back and down for the count.

Vitalij Kowaljow’s Wanderer makes his last stand, after an altogether a noble run, vocally and dramatically. The most complicated role in the Ring, it is a performance that gained strength even as Wotan loses his mojo with each successive opera.

Richard Paul Fink’s rich, deep-toned Alberich continues to eat up the scenery at his every appearance. What a find for the LA Opera; he had joined the cast only after the initial stand-alone runs and is just here for the three full cycles. Bring him back!

Eric Halfvarson’s Fafner makes his own last stand after a menacing, fire-breathy run for the gold. Sorry, Fafner, but no (Alberich) cigar.

Stacey Tappan chirped prettily as the Forest Bird. Jill Grove as Erda made another try at imparting her richly toned wisdom to that heedless family of doomed gods.

-- more to follow --

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rodney, you owe us the final half of this post! What happens in Day 4? I've GOT to know!