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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Although this production at the Los Angeles Opera, designed and directed by 74-year-old Achim Freyer, is avant-garde, static, surreal, Wagner's music and the libretto which he wrote about love, honor and ethics, is a powerful and heart-rending experience. It begins with cello strings sounding out raindrops pounding through a forest and builds into a climactic thunderstorm of overpowering proportions. Siegmund (Placido Domingo) breaks into an aria describing his exhaustion and his need to take shelter in a home he has found in the woods. The young mistress of the house, Sieglinde (Anja Kampe), tends him and the two are mysteriously drawn to each other. When Sieglinde's husband Hunding (Eric Halfvarson) returns, he learns Siegfried has been in a battle with his kindred and, though the laws of hospitality demand he give him shelter that night, he declares they must duel in the morning.
Freyer expresses this philosophical and dramatic story of gods and men on a dim stage. The characters rarely move but there is movement. A neon pole, which may represent the magic sword that Siegmund finds in an ash tree in Hunding's hut, revolves around the center of the stage, propelled by a dim nude figure. Hulking figures loom in the background, as do large puppet-like creations. An eyeball hangs in the top left corner of the stage, perhaps the one lost by Wotan, king of the gods, whose presence and desires permeate the piece.
He wants to create a new race. His twin children, Siegmund and Sieglinde, will parent the hero Siegfried who, in the third opera, plays a major part. Wotan hopes this new race will rescue the magic ring hoarded by Fafner, a giant turned dragon. Among the conjectures about Wagner's motives are the destructive materialism symbolized by the ring and the redeeming power of love, symbolized by the Valkyrie Brunnhilde, when she first sees it in the devotion of the twins.
Fricka, Wotan's wife, the goddess of marriage, has been approached by Hunding and she insists Wotan destroy Siegmund. He finally gives in and rescinds his order to Brunnhilde to protect Siegmund. Fricka represents the old order, conventional law as opposed to Wotan's dream of finding a new way to improve the world.
The third Act opens with the familiar Ride of the Valkyries, perhaps the only women's chorus in opera. Conductor James Conlon directs the overture at a rather sluggish pace but once the girls begin to sing what Wagner once jokingly referred to as "My Vaudeville," the music soars. The famous Fire Music concludes this act as Wotan puts the disobedient Brunnhilde to sleep for decades in a ring of fire, through which only a noble hero can break through and claim her. The flames are Freyer's finest scenic effect.
Linda Watson, who looks slimmer than her last appearance here in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, hasn't lost an ounce of the richness in her marvelous voice and her performance combines strength with tenderness. The cast also includes the booming bass of Eric Halfvarson as Hunding and the controlled power of Vitalij Kowaljow in the long, demanding role of Wotan. Anje Kampe is a delicate Sieglinde and Michelle DeYoung finds the humor and authority in Fricka.
Next season, The Los Angeles Opera will perform not only the last two Ring operas but the entire four-opera cycle. Director/designer Achim Freyer and co-costume designer, his daughter Amanda Freyer, were warmly applauded after this opera.