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Ensemble

New and Different

'Das Rheingold' from Los Angeles,
recommended by MARIA NOCKIN

 

Writing in his autobiography, Mein Leben, Richard Wagner describes the following scene at his Italian residence in September of 1853:

'... I suddenly felt as though I were sinking in swiftly flowing water. The rushing sound formed itself in my brain into a musical sound, the chord of E flat major, which continually re-echoed in broken forms. These broken chords seemed to be melodic passages of increasing motion, yet the pure triad of E flat major did not change. Its continuance seemed to impart infinite significance to the element in which I was sinking. I awoke in sudden terror from my doze, feeling as though the waves were rushing high above my head. At once, I recognized that the orchestral overture to Das Rheingold, which must have long been within me, unable to find definite form, had at last been revealed to me.'

On 1 November 1853, Wagner began to compose the music for The Ring of the Nibelungen. He had started to work on the scenario in 1848 while he was court conductor in Dresden. Unfortunately, he lost that position because he had a small part in a political uprising. He and his first wife, Minna, left the city when a warrant was issued for his arrest.

For the next decade they were exiled and had very little income, but despite the privations, Wagner completed the Ring librettos. In 1853, he worked on the music for Das Rheingold, but there were no performances of the opera until 1869 when King Ludwig II of Bavaria presented it at Munich's National Theatre. When Wagner's long-dreamed-of Festspielhaus at Bayreuth finally opened in August of 1876, Das Rheingold was presented as the opening night of the first complete Ring Cycle.

From left to right: Beau Gibson as Froh, Vitalij Kowaljow as Wotan, Wayne Tigges as Donner, Michelle de Young as Frika, and, at the rear, Ellie Dehn as Freia in LA Opera's production of 'Das Rheingold'. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus
From left to right: Beau Gibson as Froh, Vitalij Kowaljow as Wotan, Wayne Tigges as Donner, Michelle de Young as Frika, and, at the rear, Ellie Dehn as Freia in LA Opera's production of 'Das Rheingold'. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus

On Saturday evening, 21 February 2009, Los Angeles Opera premièred the first opera of Der Ring des Nibelungen which it expects to complete next season. For this company, it is the first Ring. Stage direction was entrusted to German director and designer Achim Freyer, who had made his LA début with Bach's B Minor Mass in 2002. He designed the scenery as well. The director and his daughter, Amanda, designed the costumes. He and Brian Gale originated the very effective lighting.

From left to right: Vitalij Kowaljow as Wotan, Gordon Hawkins as Alberich and Arnold Bezuyen as Loge in LA Opera's production of 'Das Rheingold'. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus
From left to right: Vitalij Kowaljow as Wotan, Gordon Hawkins as Alberich and Arnold Bezuyen as Loge in LA Opera's production of 'Das Rheingold'. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus

Few of the cast members were able to move around the stage with any facility. The Rheinmaidens had dancers doubling their motions so that they looked like reflections in water. Fasolt and Fafner were stationed at the rear of the stage. Alberich and Mime moved freely, but their false heads made their own faces invisible. The headdress given to Wotan also obscured his expressions.

Ellie Dehn as Freia with, at the rear, Morris Robinson as Fasolt and Eric Halfvarson as Fafner in LA Opera's production of 'Das Rheingold'. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus
Ellie Dehn as Freia with, at the rear, Morris Robinson as Fasolt and Eric Halfvarson as Fafner in LA Opera's production of 'Das Rheingold'. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus

The sound, however, was glorious. Because the pit was covered as Wagner had desired, neither conductor James Conlon nor his players were visible, but their playing certainly brought the composer's intentions to life. The cover added a blend to the orchestration that is not often heard outside of Bayreuth where the pit has a permanent cover. It was the first occasion on which this orchestra played this score, and they did it magnificently while allowing the voices to be easily heard.

Gordon Hawkins as Alberich in LA Opera's production of 'Das Rheingold'. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus
Gordon Hawkins as Alberich in LA Opera's production of 'Das Rheingold'. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus

Rheinmaidens, Stacey Tappan, Lauren McNeece and Beth Clayton sang with silken harmonies. Gordon Hawkins was an evil-sounding Alberich who cursed the gold that was taken from him. As Loge, the demi god of fire, Arnold Bezuyen energized his text with conviction. Morris Robinson and Eric Halfvarson sang Fasolt and Fafner, the giants, with distinction. Robinson, who has a powerful, resonant bass voice, and the sly Bezuyen were the vocal stars of the evening.

Gordon Hawkins as Alberich with, at the rear, Stacey Tappan as Woglinde, Beth Clayton as Fosshilde and Lauren McNeese as Wellgunde in LA Opera's production of 'Das Rheingold'. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus
Gordon Hawkins as Alberich with, at the rear, Stacey Tappan as Woglinde, Beth Clayton as Fosshilde and Lauren McNeese as Wellgunde in LA Opera's production of 'Das Rheingold'. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus

Michelle de Young seemed a relatively likeable Fricka as her burnished tones flowed out into the hall. Vitalij Kowaljow was a dramatic if somewhat dry voiced Wotan. In the small role of Freia, Ellie Dehn showed a great deal of vocal promise. Beau Gibson and Wayne Tigges rendered creditable interpretations of Froh and Donner. Graham Clark was an intense Mime. You know why Siegfried will eventually hate him. Singing with chocolate cream tones, Jill Groves gave a magnificent rendition of Erda's warning to Wotan.

Michelle De Young as Frika in LA Opera's production of 'Das Rheingold'. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus
Michelle De Young as Frika in LA Opera's production of 'Das Rheingold'. Photo © 2009 Monika Rittershaus

This was a new and different style of presenting Wagner, but the music was flawlessly played and sung. Saturday night's audience will certainly be back in April for Die Walküre.

Copyright © 2 March 2009 Maria Nockin, Arizona USA

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