LA Opera's Das Rheingold (combined)

L.A. Opera's Das Rheingold is one of the best productions of any opera I have ever seen. Period. Absolutely Fantastic.Now, I should mention that Rheingold is probably my favorite opera (at least it has been for the past few years). This is the fourth production of it I've attended and I've watched four versions of it on DVD. This one is the best. It is not without flaws, but this is the real deal- the combination of dramatic theater and music that Wagner intended to create, albeit for a 21st Century audience. My impression is that this Ring, if it stays consistent over the remaining parts, will take its place alongside Chereau's centenary Bayreuth production in redrawing the boundaries of how the work can be presented to contemporary audiences.

In other words, there are going to be haters, but let them pine for horned helmets while the rest of us follow opera into a new era.Achim Freyer made a bold choice by making the central character Loge rather than Wotan and it pays handsomely. Wotan's role is not diminshed, but rather he is portrayed as being trapped by his own decisions to the point where he is immobile for most of the evening while Loge is the prime mover on the stage. I've never seen it presented this way, but it made complete sense, aided tremendously by Loge's four-handed devil outfit nicely contrasted with Wotan's Hellraiser-inspired one-eyed god/ goon encased in an elaborate box of his own creation.

Arnold Bezeyun gave an amzing performance with precise diction and elegant phrasing. As the gods pose and pontificate, he acts- and he steals the show in the same way Heath Ledger owned the Dark Knight whenever he was onscreen.Also contributing stellar performances were Gordon Hwakins as Alberich and Graham Clark as Mime. It's saying something that these were really the standout performances of the evening. Vitilaj Kowaljow's Wotan was reserved in the beginning but it suited the presentation.

In this production, Wotan is a witness to the crime he plotted, but is forced to into a certain passivity by the events he set in motion. He has upset the balance and lacks any power to set things right, though we know he's going to spend the next ten hours trying.Women are chattel here, with the exception of Erda. Fricka stands to the side for most of the evening, outstreched arms in a mock presentation of the action unfolding right before her as if to say "but what could I have done with such a man?" She is only a spectator to the disaster befalling her family. Freia is a freak show, the gods tethered to her golden apples via a blood-red umbilical cord. The Rheinmaidens, the evening's only real disapointment in the vocal department, were interesting to watch as their reflections in the water appeared beneath them in human form, but are presented as objects of fanstasy rather than lust.And it did the hardest part right! When Alberich turned into the dragon it was actually a really cool effect rather than the cheesy bit of stage whiz or lame projection usually presented.

There are so many intriguing things here that I wish I could go back to L.A. and see it at least one more time. The dual Wotan identities made sense. The violence of Fasolt's death, while producing chuckles in its execution, was chilling to contemplate- the next performances should get it to the point where it isn't funny but horrifyng.So what didn't work? The silly plane as the rainbow bridge was lame. The giant hands were probably a good idea that didn't work out too well on stage. The magnifying glasses the giants held up made them look freaky and cool, but when they put them down the effect was lost and they were just two guys upstage. Too much neon, and the scrim was in place for the entire performance.

The orchestra was completely hidden underneath the stage, to the extent that even the conductor couldn't be seen at all from the orchestra level. The acoustics of the Dorothy Chandler aren't great to begin with, and the orchestra wasn't well served by the way the pit was obscured.At one point during the Vorspiel, I thought someone had turned on something mechanical that was creating a buzz somewhere, and I was dismayed to figure out it was originating from the pit. The orchestra sometimes had a lackluster sound to it and I can't tell if it was from the way the stage was configured. There are so many sublime moments to Rheingold's score, yet only in moments did its full power emerge. Even the anvils were not the thrill they should be, nor was Donner's hammer blow.In a live performance one always notices things in a score for the first time, yet everything I noticed seemed to be a mistake. This was a surprise to me because I've read that Conlon really wants to turn L.A. into a Wagner powerhouse. Perhaps it was where we were seated (orchestra Row M, just under the balcony). It's not that the orchestra was bad- they just accompanied a magnificent production rather than helped make it.Having said that, compared to the superbly conducted and well-sung performance I saw this past summer in San Francisco, this production was in a completely different league due to the sheer brilliance and execution of what was happening on stage and it made the SFO production look provincial and old-fashioned (even though it was excellent). Kudos to Freyer, Conlon and Domingo- L.A. Opera is the most exciting opera company in the country west of Manhattan.

Still, I loved this production. I can't wait for Die Walkure.