The gods have been destroyed, the Rhine maidens have their gold, people die, the world collapses. That is Gotterdammerung, the fourth opera in Wagner’s Ring, which is being produced by the Los Angeles Opera to the tune of $37 million. The productions have been met with scorn, derision, bravos, and acclaim. The source of all this attention is the fanciful production by designer Achim Freyer.
Gotterdammerung is the fourth and longest of the Ring operas. It is an endurance test, and everyone came through with flying colors, especially Maestro James Conlon. John Treleven (Siegfried) and Linda Watson (Brunnhilde) surpassed what had been expected of them. They were not so strong in the previous Siegfried but were splendid together in all their scenes together here. Then made us care about them, which is saying a lot in a production that has reduced characters to cartoons, Siegfried looking like a muscle-bound blonde surfer and Brunnhilde like a woman having a bad hair day.
One of the standouts in this production was Eric Halverson’s evil Hagen, son of the dwarf Alberich. I rather liked his costume with the dangling legs that he used to suggest decadence as he spent his time sitting on a nude figure of a woman, presumably his mother, while Alberich lingered close by. The Alberich of Richard Paul Frank, with his very powerful voice, was outstanding. Frank managed to convey tremendous presence despite his size and ugly masked appearance. Speaking of masks, the half-sister and half-brother of Hagen were sung by Jennifer Wilson and Alan Held through masks; the effect was to make them seem like creatures from another world, which is what they are.
The final “Immolation” scene was a deconstructed wonder. Everything that had been artificial and contrived was revealed as mere theatrical pretense. We get to see the prompters as their raven coverings were taken away. The lights came down and we were exposed to the bare theatre. The props went swirling about. In fact, the biggest complaint by Wagner fans who like their Ring done traditionally has been that the story is presented more like a modern painting than a tale of real people. But I found this method intriguing; it kept me involved despite the 19 hours it takes to get through the entire cycle. Traditionalists booed and carried on, as is their fashion. Personally I felt the whole experience was fascinating, though sometimes silly and more times than not boring. But the LA Opera pulled it off.
Now they embark on presenting the Ring in its entirety over a nine-day period (rather lengthy considering the cost of hotels). Hopefully the out-of-town hordes will descend and fill the many seats in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. These productions deemed too large to fail by the City Council could prove to be the downfall of the Los Angeles Opera. I am hopeful that this wild and expensive experiment will prove otherwise.
Gotterdammerung will play at the Dorothy Chandler for only a few more performances. Otherwise you would have to see and hear in as part of an entire Ring. This Ring production makes more sense as a whole and, if you have endurance, is a rich and rewarding experience.