(Los Angeles, Calif. - May 29. 2010) Tickets are still available for full cycles of Richard Wagner's four-opera Ring (see operas and performance dates below). The first of three cycles begins tonight. And according to today's Los Angeles Times, the series is currently about $1 million short of recouping its reported $31 million cost. There are obviously some unsold seats, but perhaps not for long.
If you've ever been a patron of LA Opera, expect a call from their friendly and highly cultured telemarketers. We encourage you to take the call - and take it in. If your budget is tight (whose isn't?), or if you don't consider yourself much of a Wagnerian (we didn't), see at least one - Die Walküre. Then pray you can still get into the others.
If you are undecided and even only mildly curious about all the hype surrounding this milestone production, we offer a kind of Cliff's Notes to the series, compiled from our past reviews on LASplash.com. (Hyperlinks will take you to the original full-length articles.)
The entire cycle, called Der Ring des Nibelungen, is a monumental experience that tells a unified story, drawn from Norse mythology, over the course of four complete operas: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. It's a portrayal of a legendary war between gods and mortals for control of the earth. The plot concerns an epic struggle to win control of a magic ring that gives its bearer the power to rule the world. Created by the evil dwarf Alberich, the ring is successively possessed by Wotan, the king of the gods, then by the dragon Fafner, and eventually by Wotan's grandson, Siegfried. Ultimately, the ring comes into the possession of Siegfried's widow Brünnhilde, who returns the ring to its source, thus ending the reign of the gods.
Opera 1 - Das Rheingold - A Celebration of Teutonic Wierdness
This introduction to the Ring story tells the origins of the ring and its magic powers and the threat it poses to the arrogant gods.
Georja: The sets and imaginative renderings of the characters are eye-popping. If you like to see beings with six arms, giant characters with heads in their chests, neon hands, a large illuminated eyeball, dwarfs with huge head masks, and various other weird and robotic-looking apparitions, it is a visual feast. The stage is mostly dark, shaded further by a scrim, with the odd fluorescent blue line and other projections on it... The more I think about the show and all we saw and experienced, I think it is a superb undertaking and I'm glad I saw it. Every element is top notch.
Gerald: It's all about the power of myth. According to designer-director Achim Freyer, "The spectator decides creatively which truths contained in the exemplary strange figures and worlds exist for himself."
Opera 2 - Die Walküre - The Gods Must Be Crazy
This four-hour-plus opera centers on the love story between Siegmund and Sieglinde, the parents of superhero Siegfried. It features some of Wagner's most memorable music. Highlights include Siegmund's heroic "Spring Song" ("Winterstürme"), the love duet ("Du bist der Lenz"), the rousing "Ride of the Valkyries," Wotan's heartbreaking "Farewell" to his beloved daughter ("Leb wohl"), and the "Magic Fire Music" finale. As we said, if you see only one, let it be this one.
Georja: Before embarking on LA Opera's Ring Cycle, I had little familiarity with Norse mythology or Wagner or the work of director Achim Freyer. The first installment, Das Rheingold, seemed extremely weird and cold. It was interesting but hard to understand or relate to. However, this the second installment of the Ring, I found to be wonderful, emotional, uplifting and engaging. Unlike the first part - which seemed to be about suffering and greed - the dominant theme of Die Walküre is love.
Gerald: I agree with you that Die Walküre is much more emotional and engaging than Das Rheingold - maybe because it's natural to get pulled into Freyer's vision gradually, as the cycle unfolds. But I was more willing this time around to accept the bizarre costumes and staging, and I found myself participating in all the symbolism, although still not understanding most of it.
Opera 3 - Siegfried - Be Prepared for a Long Siege
Georja: In this Siegfried production, it is definitely James Conlon the conductor and the musicians who were on the front lines and performing in marathon fashion. They do not stop except at the two intermissions and did not hit one false note. It is so beautiful, and after awhile it is so relaxing that it is easy to be lulled into closing your eyes. But that is not acceptable, for you might miss a plot point on the supertitles or miss something from one of the fantastical ultra-creative characters.
Gerald: I agree that all the performances in this production are exceptionally strong. I remember we first saw John Treleaven as the tenor lead in LA Opera's presentation of Tristan und Isolde in 2008. We both thought then he was a strong and captivating performer.
(Georja also has high praise for Linda Watson, who plays Brünnhilde.)
Opera 4 - Götterdämmerung - A Metaphysical Ride
Georja: Perhaps it is the humanness of the love affair, the heroism, the fallibility and the intrigue that move the plot along in a way that had me on the edge of my seat. When I am enjoying an opera, it is usually not in this way. Usually the dynamics of the music and bigness of the emotions pull me in, along with the beauty onstage. Even though the themes and presentation of Götterdämmerung do not lend themselves to involvement in the characters' feelings, the intellectual intrigue, matched in pitch by the creative presentations, make this last part of the Ring cycle very engaging.
Gerald: Understand that this whole story is supposed to have happened before the ancestors of you and me came on the scene. This is a pre-human world, infused with the rules of fantasy, a place where a superhero (Siegfried) can nevertheless be defeated by little more than swig from a magic potion. As Freyer describes the story's conclusion, 'The gods burn up in flames. The stage as a world becomes empty and free. It is transformed back into its original form. It is now open to the rise of new ideas for a world worthy of humans.'
Georja: Whereas some of the earlier stories were almost too weird to relate to, this more earthly one pulls you in and has you rooting for the good guys. Brünnhilde and Siegfried are very appealing characters, and everyone else is not. I could listen to Linda Watson all day no matter what she is singing. The evil little Hagen, sung in glorious bass tones by Eric Halfvarson, is also hypnotic. With his pink gloves, gold suit and puppet legs, it is hard to take your eyes off him.
Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.
Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.
Photos by Monika Rittershaus courtesy LA Opera
Ring Cycle Festival (all four episodes presented sequentially, in three successive runs)
Ring Cycle 1
Ring Cycle 2
Ring Cycle 3
Los Angeles Opera
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 687-3490 fax