Los Angeles Ring Festival 2010

Seminar at MSMC about the LA Ring Festival 2010

“Star Wars” Ring?

Here’s why the LA Opera Ring is being called the “Star Wars Ring.”

Valkyries with Light Sabers

These are the Valkyries with their Light Sabers. This still shot conveys the idea, but to get a fuller visual impression, you can view the video clip on YouTube.  Only in the theater, however, with live action and motion do you get the full impact of this performance.  Think of sparklers in the dark. 

Note the “dead bodies” like mummies at the feet of the Valkyries. These are the fallen warriors who are chosen on the battlefield to become heroes sung and celebrated in the halls of Valhalla. (Implied comment on contemporary heroism?) The “bicycles” are the horses ridden by the Valkyries. These bikes later become the torches spinning around Brunnhilde when Wotan condemns her to the protection of the Magic Fire Circle. Red electric lights are mounted on top of each bike as the bikes turn each on their own axis.

And there in the center is Wotan in one of his incarnations, pulling the Valkyries on ribbon strings. Sometimes Wotan will appear on the stage in several simultaneous incarnations. This particular incarnation has Wotan wearing a floppy-brim hat, the Wanderer’s Hat that usually adorns him at the beginning of the opera Siegfried during the Riddle Contest with Mime. Here the lack of a head enhances the mysterious quality of Wotan the Wanderer as his power and purpose diminish and he gradually gives way to inevitable failure and the growing Twilight of the Gods.


Filed under: Festival 2010, Reactions & Reviews, Related culture, Ring of the Nibelung

Freyer’s Valkyrie Is Stunning!

Freyer’s Valkyrie last night was a stunner! It opened, for me, the greatness and appropriateness of this particular staging of the Ring Cycle. The performance began to gel at the end of the opening scene as Siegmund and Sieglinde move visibly closer to one other across the vast scenic ring at center stage. Previously, the performance continued with the oratorio-like withholding of physical gestures where the human body plays a minimal role in the midst of large-scale puppets, light-sabers, and magic-surreal props. 

As the bodies of Siegmund and Sieglinde touched, the connection of evocatively deep emotive music came together and the magic began. The cold 21st-century distances between on-stage characters also melted at other moments, reminding us of the power of Wagner’s long, belabored, sometimes boring build-ups to a single gesture or action that then push the release button to bring the audience to tears. This magical tension-release works smoothly and hypnotically in Freyer’s glittering spectacle. 

Other similar moments include the ride of the Valkyries, Wotan’s farewell to Brunnhilde, and the final Magic Fire Circle. Even those who first booed Freyer’s daring Rheingold had to rise to their feet in applause after the Magic Fire Circle shone in radiant splendor at end of the last act. 

Skeptics of the LA Cycle will be fewer now that Freyer’s Valkyrie has revealed more of the full conception. Freyer has created a truly 21st-century design, building on the post-World-War-II Bayreuth productions by Wieland Wagner and – as has been pointed out by others – drawing also on Star Wars, Star Trek, and 20th-century sci-fi classics. It’s quite a wonderful cultural surprise to witness an anti-Romantic 20th-century staging that combines a 21st-century search for useable classical gestures. Add to that the sweet, warm, precise conducting of James Conlon and the amazing voice of Placido Domingo: Wow! It’s thrilling to behold.

Filed under: Los Angeles culture, Reactions & Reviews, Ring of the Nibelung

Talk about the Die Walkure Reviews

The reviews are starting to come in for Die Walkure  at the LA Opera.   Seems Angelinos are becoming more comfortable with the staging and enjoying the full opera  experience more.    

 As Mark Swed LA Times Music Critic says the cries of bravo downed out the few naysayers.  “ This Freyer production is not to everyone’s taste; no product of any merit, confrontational or conventional, is or should be.   

So true!  However, the entertainment capital of the world deserved and expected a production that warrants conversation.  I am just glad the chatter is moving away from solely being about the staging and back the production as a whole.    

Filed under: Reactions & Reviews

Freyer Painting at the Broad Museum (LACMA)

A watercolor by Achim Freyer, visual designer of the LA Ring cycle, hangs in the current exhibit “The Art of Two Germanys: Art in Berlin during the Cold War.”  The exhibit celebrates Berlin’s enormous pent-up, always-on-the-edge-of-violence mood during the Cold War period. Giant wall photos of anti-nuclear street protests at New York City’s Grand Central Station stand opposite gild-framed portraits of US President Ronald Reagan whose stone-wall demeanor is cordoned off with red ropes at the end of a long red Hollywood-style red carpet.

Freyer’s  contribution to the museum exhibit is a large watercolor with several strips of solid sea blue (yes, solid watercolors!).  The effect is similar to a small Rothko, an abstract expressionistic beauty based on subtle shadings of banded color, in this case the single color of light ocean blue. The title is “Seascape.”

The exhibit’s several rooms in the Broad building at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) features shocking moments too, easy reminders of Germany’s 20th-century tragedies. If you lived in Berlin during the Seventies, as this writer has, you will find much to ponder in the paintings that retrieve the memories of Rudi Dutschke, the Red Army Faction, the life of Turkish “guest workers,” etcetera. 

Included in the exhibit is a wall-size Wagner-inspired painting by the noted Anselm Kiefer. Kiefer’s mead-hall vision in “Germany’s spiritual heroes” – has a lower border that is darkened by a flame that threatens to ignite the whole wooden structure. The name “Wagner” leads the list of names that include Goethe, Mechtild of Magdeburg, et al.  Another Wagner-related painting “Brünnhilde Sleeps” by Anselm Kiefer is online at:  http://tinyurl.com/Br-nnhilde-Sleeps

More about the exhibit at: www.tinyurl.com/freyer

Filed under: Los Angeles culture, Reactions & Reviews, Related culture

Visual Jokes in Freyer’s Production of Das Rheingold

The Achim Freyer production has some hilarious moments (yes, sardonic humor in a Ring production!).

My favorite visual joke is in the Subterranean Cavern where Alberich and Mime (Scene 3) are venting anger on one another, Alberich is abusing Mime, pulling him by the ear, and Mime in turn castigates his slave workers in the mines with cruel whip lashes.   Mime turns toward his gang of brow-beaten miners and raises his hands several times,  his hands gesturing up and down exactly like a conductor with a large orchestra. The mine dwarves are frantically making agitated gestures as if they were hacking away at bizarre musical instruments. All this pantomine is awkwardly synchronized with the actual music (the musicians in this production are completely hidden by a black cover over the orchestra pit). It’s as if the orchestra with conductor suddenly appear on-stage and make themselves present in the myth. 

James Conlon probably smiles every time this scene comes around. It’s very funny once you notice it!

Filed under: Reactions & Reviews, Ring of the Nibelung, ,

First Look at Rheingold

Yesterday evening, the LA Opera production of Das Rheingold was resplendent, vivid, and highly visual.

For people with previous Ring experience, this Rheingold adds a new dimension. The production is visually arresting! Your eyes are challenged to process the stage events much as the Wagnerian music and complex archetypal drama challenges your ears and brain process.

The Brechtian “alienation effect” controls all the staging: the audience is supposed to think and understand rather than react by emotionally identifying with the illusory characters on stage .  The initial weirdness of the staging subsides as the metaphors emerge: Wotan’s spear is a shaft of light; Fasolt & Fafner wield large lenses to reflect their magnitude; Loge’s multiple puppet arms reveal his sleight-of-hand skills; Froh and Donner whimsically float in the air. The colors and lights shift constantly within each scene and stimulate the eyes. Contrasts of scale continually surprise, and the audience comes to follow the human-size walking Wotan as an extension of the giant floating Wotan hovering over a side of the stage.

Achim Freyer makes the point like no other production: Loge is the Devil, Goethe‘s Mephistophiles who uses clever logic to tempt Faust. Freyer places Loge at the center of Rheingold and gives him the costume that leaves no doubt about his identity.


Filed under: Festival 2010, Reactions & Reviews, Ring of the Nibelung

First Reviews are Coming In . . .

Well, here’s the link to Mark Swed’s review in the LA Times. Many of the comments posted in response to his review are not in agreement with Swed. There’s quite a strong – not favorable – reaction to the production. 

Here’s the link to the review.  Go down below for the comments. Quite strong reactions!

There’s also a gallery of photos from the production that give you an idea of what the commentators are talking about.

Filed under: Festival 2010, Los Angeles culture, Reactions & Reviews