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Artistic Self-Indulgence?

Los Angeles
The Dorothy Chandler
04/04/2009 -  & 8, 12, 16, 19, 22, 25 April 2009
Richard Wagner: Die Walküre
Plácido Domingo (Siegmund), Anja Kampe (Sieglinde), Linda Watson (Brünnhilde), Eric Halfvarson (Hunding), Vitalij Kowaljow (Wotan), Michelle DeYoung (Fricka), Ellie Dehn (Gerhilde), Susan Foster (Helmwige), Melissa Citro (Ortlinde), Erica Brookhyser (Waltraute), Margaret Thompson (Rossweisse), Buffy Baggott (Siegrune), Jane Gilbert (Grimgerde), Ronnita Nicole Miller (Schwertleite), Laurie Baron, Shell Bauman, Chris Bonomo, Nicholas Bonora, Richard Bulda, Katerina Goode, Emily S. Grosland, Nathan Hedrick, Chris Mendez, Tara Page, Eric Underwood (Ensemble Members), Stephen Hues (Ensemble Dance Captain)
Stuart Canin (Los Angeles Opera Concertmaster), Grant Gershon (Associate Conductor), James Conlon (Conductor)
Achim Freyer (Director and Designer), Achim Freyer and Amanda Freyer (Costume Designers), Brian Gale and Achim Freyer (Lighting Designers)

(© Monika Rittershaus)

Los Angeles Opera brings back German avant-garde director Achim Freyer to spearhead
Die Walküre, the second installment in Richard Wagner’s epic journey of Der Ring des Nibelungen. After a somewhat benign reception of Das Rheingold in January, this production deserves some detailed commentary.

James Conlon’s ample orchestration begins in a blackened pit, bounded by Richard Wagner’s original wishes. In contrast to Das Rheingold , Die Walküre adds another dimension by introducing mortal beings into the Valhalla mix, ratcheting up yet another notch in Wagner’s dramatic musical score. The notes, unfortunately, never reach their full impact on the stage.

In a nutshell, this production is static. No where do we see a broad conveyance of emotion or an ounce of physical contact that holds rightful ownership to this opera. Perhaps Mr. Freyer’s illusive abstractions are to allow the audience to create their own cerebral imagery. The lack of movement by principals on stage drags this Wagnerian music down. As in the first quarter of the Ring, this action (or lack thereof), surrounds itself on a tilted circle that glacially moves at times (thank heavens). Granted, we see a variety of Amanda Freyer’s colorfully, albeit grade school-like characters periodically step onto the geometric ring’s periphery, it looks as though we’re watching a parade of mannequins on a never ending model runway.

Great anticipation awaits the arrival of Plácido Domingo as the protagonist, Siegmund. Mr. Domingo, alongside his incestuous twin, Sieglinde, sung by German Anja Kampe, do a fine job in dramatic voice and projection although the former shows signs of sporadic tiring. Singing in acceptable fashion as Wotan is Vitalij Kowaljow who runs into an emotive altercation by his wife, Fricka, that is well sung by returning Michelle DeYoung. Having made previous appearances with Los Angeles Opera in various Wagner and Strauss operas, Linda Watson’s Brünnhilde is strong and bold while Eric Halfvarson’s broad bass voice consumes the evil Hunding.

The choreography is loose, lacks detailed attention, and comes across as being unprepared, ultimately diluting the importance of Wagner’s music. That may have been Achim Freyer’s premeditated agenda. The fetish of glowing neon sticks to signify swords proves outlandishly funny especially when hearing the audible clicks of switches that fail on first attempts. Maybe we’re in some sort of ad hoc summer stock theater.

Many opera lovers might likely identify with this director’s sheer self-indulgence and introspective scope, mesmerized by the tremendous strides in inventiveness. Others might just ask the question…WHY?

Christie Grimstad



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