Siegfried, part three of Los Angeles Opera’s $30 million Ring Cycle, has premiered at the Dorothy Chandler. Wagner is said to be an acquired taste, and this production by internationally famous director Achim Freyer is even more so. Freyer’s productions of Das Rheingold, Die Walkure and now Siegfried have been meet with their share of boos, but I am here to tell you the cheers are winning.
This is my first Ring, and one thing I have learned is that Wagnerians are an opinionated lot and know what they like, and what they like they like passionately. One thing that is exciting about Siegfried is the amount of discussion that it provokes in the audience. There were several traditionalists in my row, but most seem willing to give the show a chance to impress. Well, they were impressed, as was I. I am acquiring a taste for Wagner and this Ring Cycle in particular.
Though I am somewhat familiar with Eastern European theatre, having been directed by Wilson and performed in Poland, I was not so thrown by the wildly expressionist concept Freyer has mounted. The LA Opera is to be commended because they have not rested on their laurels but made some major attempts to improve the product already on view and due to be seen again in three complete Ring Cycles later in the season. The shows are a marvel of lighting magic, which creates mystery, wonder, and great beauty. But, for instance, the original tubes that lined the floor have been upgraded so they would not fail, or at least fail less often. When the lights flickered or went out the spell was broken and what was magical became a bunch or tubes and made the whole endeavor seem a bit silly.
Another great improvement is the covering placed over the orchestra, making it invisible. The first covering muffled the sound and interfered with the purity of the music. Now there is a newer, more porous covering that lets the music soar, especially under the capable hands of Maestro Conlon. The singers, however, are the same – but some have bigger roles this time. Vitalij Kowaljow continues to impress as Wotan with his rich and sensitive baritone. Despite the cumbersome costume he manages to convey much subtlety. Linda Watson returns as Brunhilde. I am not as impressed with her, yet she is much more than competent.
Oleg Bryjak is back as the nasty Alberich, but this time it’s his brother Mime, as portrayed by Graham Clark, who steals the show. He seems to be having a great time strutting across the stage, removing his headgear, and snarling his lines of music. Eric Halvarson makes and impressive if short-lived Fafner. Stacy Tappan has a lovely soprano voice for the songbird, as does Jill Grove, returning as Erda.
But Siegfried would not be Siegfried without the title character. John Treleaven has the nearly impossible task of singing pretty much the whole five hours the opera takes. I detected a little tiredness towards the end, but he managed to sing a lovely duet with Ms. Watson. He portrayed Siegfried with great humor and some stupidity (as required). I greatly enjoyed Mr. Treleaven.
Siegfried plays at the Dorothy Chandler through Oct. 17 and will return for the complete Ring in May and June of next year.