Monday, June 21, 2010

LA Opera: Four Gold-en Rings...

So if you've been anywhere in earshot (IRL or virtual) from me in the past few days, you've heard me ranting and raving about LA Opera's production of the Ring, or if you want to to get technical - Der Ring des Nibelungen. It has turned me into a veritable madwoman.

(Warning: A nuanced, in-depth analysis of all thing Ring and Wagner is clearly beyond me as I'm just a neophyte, so you'll just have to settle for my slightly incoherent ramblings.)

But if you read nothing else, know that regardless of your affinity towards opera, it is worth seeing at least one of these for several reasons.
  1. The plot is really interesting. Like Star Wars? Lord of the Rings? Virtually any comic book? It's all here. You'll see dragons, dwarfs, giants, gods, serpents, warrior women... it's truly epic. It's not your usual love triangle which ends up with a woman sprawled on stage in Act 3 - here the whole shebang goes up in a blaze of glory.
  2. The music is varied and beautiful. You get the Ride of Valkyries (cue Apocalpyse Now helicopters), but you also get beautiful love duets. Check out the beginning of the entire work in Das Rheingold - that E flat minor opening evokes the bottom of the river, the womb, the primordial muck that we all arose from... so primal and beautiful. Then the music rises as you travel from the depths of the murky bottom up through waves until you break through the surface. The best prelude of any opera I've ever heard - amazing how much visual imagery is present in the orchestration.
  3. There's lots of dialogue that is quite witty. Like in Die Walkure when Wotan's wife Fricka is on the warpath and demands an audience with him, his daughter Brunhilde makes a hasty exit saying:
I prefer not to engage
in skirmishes like this,
much as I love bold
men's battles.
So see how you survive the storm
I am glad to leave you in the lurch.

Heh. Funny stuff. Even powerful Brunhilde can't deal with domestic strife.

There are four separate operas that comprise the Ring cycle:

  • Das Rheingold
  • Die Walkure
  • Siegfried
  • Gotterdammerung

Typically, opera companies will perform one of them during a particular season - they stand on their own perfectly fine. Wagner makes sure to put a little exposition at various points to give folks the background from the previous operas and each tells a coherent story with exciting climaxes.

But if you have the chance to do the entire Ring cycle in a crazy crash course, it does have some benefits. A major one is that it is easier to remember all the motifs or musical themes that Wagner uses to connect the story. So for example, the joyous song praising the gold from the Rhine sung by the Rheinmaidens in Das Rheingold is repeated at the start of Siegfriend (but in a more sinister fashion as the pure Rhine gold has been corrupted into a ring by power-hungry creatures). Another benefit is that it's easier to remember all the complex relationships with the characters. And finally, apparently there are Ring Nuts who travel around the world to watch the entire cycle - having these back to back (to back to back) performances definitely cuts down on travel time.

Now on to the LA Opera rendition... A bit of background - Los Angeles Opera has only been around for 27 years and in order to be mentioned in the same breath as the the Big Kids (i.e., SanFo, New York), Music Director James Conlon felt they needed to put on the entire Ring Cycle. And so began the Herculean effort.

They brought on director Achim Freyer who is a modernist influenced by Brecht (I tried to read some more info about him, but couldn't understand a damn thing). The production is, well, a little "out there." lol Think Salvador Dali meets George Lucas meets Jim Henson.

At first I was worried about having a totally avant-garde production as my introduction to the Ring, but after watching the first two operas, I fully get Freyer's world. Not only do I get it, I want to strap on a papier-mache puppet head and cavort on stage with a bullwhip and a ball gag in the blue spectral light.

There's something so fantastically beautiful and other worldly about it. It looks like a surreal painting. Many of the costumes are tricky to move, so singers often deliver their lines with only arm gestures. A large scrim is placed over the stage (occasionally projections are placed on it) but it gives the performance a sort of uni-dimensional quality that makes it even look more like art.

It's amazing that the singers were able to give such nuanced performances wearing such outlandish costumes (designed by the director and his daughter).

Aberlich, the catalyst of the story who steals gold to make the eponymous ring from the Rhinemaidens after renouncing love, wears a large dwarf head that completely covers his face.

Fricka, wife of Wotan (the sort of head Zeus god) has eerily outstretched arms with light-up hands. She's the god of marriage and home and hearth, so maybe the arms are supposed to symbolize her nuturing nature. Or maybe it represents her far-ranging reach into the lives of everyone on stage (she gets Wotan to turn his back on his children).

Wotan has black facepaint on for most of the operas and wears a metal cage around his head. His disembodied eye that he sacrificed to marry Fricka lights up and is positioned at different places on the stage - on the bottom corner, on top in the rafters, etc.

Loge, god of fire, and someone whose crafty ways led conductor James Conlon to term "the first lawyer" looks like a devil. With four arms.

I don't know if I'm my way to Ring Nut status, but I am sort of wondering what it would be like to see a more traditional staging of the work... I'm not quite ready to go the Bayreuth Festival in Germany, but a quick google search has informed me that a certain opera company in a certain large metropolitan city that I'm intimately familiar with is going to be doing Das Rheingold and Die Walkure during their 2010-2011 year... Sounds like a date. :)

Anywho... more to follow!


dapotato said...

your post makes me want to go to the opera. and i'm not really a fan of opera. love the avant garde production, too. i think i would go just to see that.

ring nut sounds funny.

12 year old

wan said...

i'm not gonna lie, i kind of have zero interest in opera.

but i do love your enthusiasm :)

weezermonkey said...

Only you could make opera this fun!

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