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Opera Review (LA): Die Walküre by Wagner at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion

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Die Walküre, the second installment of the L.A. Opera's $32 million Ring, has opened, and the results are better than I expected.

I was somewhat put off by the overly art-directed Das Rheingold and didn’t know what to expect when I went to this four-hour, forty-minute opera. But the design elements started to fall into place, and I started to better understand what the designer/director Achim Freyer is getting at in his design.

This is my first Ring, though I did see Das Rheingold before at the Met in New York in a more easily understandable version (in terms of design). I found parts of Die Walküre gorgeous to look at, and quite moving. This resulted partly from my getting familiar with the design concept, and partly because I felt the singers were more relaxed in their approach and more passionately committed to the undertaking.

The cast featured the company's Artistic Director, Placido Domingo, as Sigmund. He continues to startle with his endurance and the fullness of his tone. Sigmund is considered one of his signature roles, and it is easy to see why. He now sings in the lower baritone register, as his voice has darkened and deepened with age. His performance was glorious, and must have inspired the rest of the cast, because some of the singers who were just OK in Das Rheingold, like Vitalij Kowaljow as Wotan, really came into their own and delivered wonderful performances.

Anja Kampe was simply magnificent as Sigmund’s twin sister Sieglinde. Her voice was a beautiful match to Domingo's. Linda Watson sang Brunnhilde. It took me awhile to warm to her, but this was her first venture into this new Ring. As the performance progressed I felt her grow in strength and commitment. Maestro Conlon led the hidden orchestra with passion and pace and delivered Wagner’s score admirably.

The design was exciting, with amazing lighting by Freyer and Brian Gale. Some people behind me had missed Das Rheingold and had planned to leave at the end of the second act. They stayed mainly because they began to understand the concept and were quite taken by how Freyer staged and designed the famous “Ride of The Valkyries” using steel horses that pivoted and lighting effects that made the maidens look like they were traveling. One Ring aficionado said he thought it was the best rendition of that particular scene he had ever seen.

There are some detractors who find Freyer’s concept simplistic and obvious despite the arty design. Apparently, for some people who love the Ring, it must be done in ways that they approve of, or the whole experience is ruined. But Freyer’s concept left me breathless at times, though at other times there were moments and choices that seemed downright silly. (I still can’t quite accept the Star Wars light sabers.) This production deserves attention, however, and is something Domingo and the L.A. Opera can be proud of. Die Walküre runs until April 25.

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About Robert Machray

  • Ringwatcher

    Rheingold is 4 hours and 40 minutes long? Must have been a VERY SLOW performance. Rheingold usually runs 2 hour 35 minutes tops.

  • http://www.stagehappenings.com ROBERT MACHRAY

    Die Walkure was 4 hours 40 minutes long.

  • Dan

    Watson was dreadful. So it was her first time in the new RING? That applies to the entire cast. The Wotan was magnificent. Finest Wotan in decades. Decades!

  • http://www.stagehappenings.com ROBERT MACHRAY

    I meant it was her opening night and she might improve like the others did who were in Das Rheingold. Domingo needed no warmup!

  • http://www.seth-hill.com Seth Hill

    The singing was great, the staging and costumes were ugly, horrible, ghastly, confusing, silly, pretentious, stupid, insulting … I wish I could find stronger words.
    Oh, well. I hope the production of this Ring cycle doesn’t bankrupt Los Angeles Opera.
    (Some reviewers have commented that anyone who doesn’t like this production is against new interpretations. I beg to differ. I would love an imaginative new interpretation, as long as it allows the singers to move around and act. I assume that’s why they became opera stars, so they could sing and act.)

  • Fan of Wagner’s Works

    I am against modern interpretations. It is not the director’s job to create their own “interpretation”, but rather to present the composer’s work in as faithful a manner as possible. We must remember that Wagner was very specific in his directions (no other composer has published so much material regarding the performances of his works); thus, anything which deviates as much from the composers intent as Freyer’s production has is a mutilation. I tend to think that Wagner himself was a much better dramatist than Freyer (I challenge anyone to contradict this). Anyway, if Freyer wishes to make bizarre modern “art”, he should collaborate with some modern composer in producing a contemporary author rather than destroying the sublime works of the past at the expense of others (subscribers and donors).