Upon Reflection
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Keeping Our Ring Fingers Crossed in Los Angeles

While the Deutsche Oper mumblingly, fumblingly reinstates its production of Sam Peckenpaugh's Bring Me The Heads of World Religious Figures Mozart's Idomeneo, the opera news in Los Angeles promises healthy helpings of Wagner.  Specifically Los Angeles Opera will, at long last, mount a complete production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen beginning in the 2008-2009 season, with three runs through the complete cycle to be staged in the summer of 2010.  The Los Angeles Times reports:

German director Achim Freyer, known for complex and sometimes obscure stagings, will direct and design Wagner's four-opera 'Ring' cycle for Los Angeles Opera, general director Plácido Domingo announced Thursday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

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James Conlon, the company's new music director, will conduct the cycle.  It will be his first American 'Ring,' although he has conducted the work in Germany. In coming seasons, he will also conduct such other Wagner operas for the company as 'Tannhäuser,' 'The Mastersingers of Nürnberg' and 'Tristan and Isolde.'

L.A. Opera first announced plans for a 'Ring' in 2000 to be staged by German director Peter Mussbach, working with Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas' special-effects team.  But the post-Sept. 11 economic slowdown derailed the plans.

Being general director of an opera company hath its privileges: Domingo has announced that he intends to sing the role of the, ahem, youthful hero Siegmund in Die Walküre, notwithstanding that he will be 67 years old when the production premieres, and 69 when if closes.  A C Douglas expresses skepticism on this point, a little too subtly for some of his readers, while linking to PlaybillArts' coverage, which notes that in light of his age "the possibility remains that [Domingo] will retire from the stage before then." *

Domingo's current age did not stop him last season from essaying the even-younger title character in Robert Wilson's otherwise generally sublime LA Opera production of Parsifal.  At his best, Domingo still possesses an extraordinary if not exactly Wagnerian voice, but he does strain dramatic credibility more than somewhat in these roles.

The announcement that Achim Freyer will direct is rife (fraught?) with intriguing possibilities.  I quite liked Freyer's 2003 LA production of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust and while he certainly qualifies as avant he seems more intent on maintaining interest in his stagings than in imposing some post-hoc political reading on the work at hand.  (Cf. Idomeneo, supra.)  The LA Times story has Freyer making comforting sounds about his intent to devise a production "in the way that 'Wagner had wanted and sketched'".  One can only hope.

On the bright side, we know one thing that Los Angeles will not get in this production: Although Domingo is also general director of the Washington National Opera, he has chosen to mount a new production in Los Angeles rather than importing WNO's in-progress "American 'Ring'" devised by Francesca Zambello.  ACD was most displeased with what he saw and heard of that one, and he was not alone.  The blurb on the WNO site for this year's installment -- Walküre with, yes, Domingo as Siegmund -- does not build confidence:

Intimidated by Wagner?  This is the genius at his most human.  Think of a henpecked husband (okay, so he happens to be chief god), a pair of overly affectionate siblings, and a disobedient tomboy daughter.  Then just let the music lift you out of your seat and drop you, exhausted and enthralled, three thrilling acts later.

What?  Hilarity doesn't ensue?

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* NOTE: After initially posting this, I re-read the first A C Douglas item linked  -- the one about Domingo -- and only then noticed that his particular subtlety had even passed me by in prior readings.  The version of the PlaybillArts story that he quotes has Domingo playing the role of Siegfried, not Siegmund, in Die Walküre.  Not much of a challenge there.  Even I could do it, given that Siegfried never appears in that work.  (He is conceived during intermission and doesn't come on to the stage as a character until his own namesake music drama, next in the series.)

PlaybillArts had corrected its version before I read it, making Domingo's role less fried and more mundane.


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