The last time I anticipated seeing an opera as much as LA Opera's Die Walkure was probably Karita Matilla's initial turn as Salome at the Met. Those who've read my comments about LA's Das Rheingold will understand why- it was genius. Is Walkure on the same level? No, it's merely very, very good.
The problem is the first act, which is one of the most static stagings I've ever seen. There were static bits in Rheingold as well, but they worked for me because it showed the gods paralyzed by their own identities, acts and choices. In Walkure that approach doesn't work in the first act because we are supposed to be witnessing the flowering of a lust that results in, well, gotterdammerung. Yeah, it's incest and all that, but it's molten love all the same. Place Siegmund and Sieglinde at opposite ends of the stage for an hour and there's not a lot of tension building to match the music. The picture to the left is about as hot as it gets, and that cool blue light is a constant through the first act.
Additionally, while everyone is correct about the astonishing ability of Domingo at 68, he took awhile to warm up and his voice wasn't nearly as strong as when I last saw him in this role a couple of years ago in Costa Mesa. Anja Kampe, normally a singer whom I really enjoy, seemed completely unable to handle the vocal requirements of the role, though I've heard her quality seems to change from performance to performance. The staging gives you little else to go by however, so when the voices aren't there, it becomes, well, very slow going. Eric Halfvarson's Hundig was as good as expected.
Acts 2 and 3 were an altogether different story and returned to the level of greatness achieved in Rheingold. Vitalij Kowaljow's Wotan had confidence and range- he was completely convincing in voice and acting. The Wotan of these two operas is in distinctly different circumstances and Kowaljow's performance conveyed all the conflicts that come out during this part of the Ring. I think it's a brilliant portrayal. To my surprise, the afternoon's best singing came from Michelle DeYoung as Fricka. She was perfect and has definitely laid claim to the role.
So yes, I haven't mentioned Linda Watson's Brunnhilde, the star of our show. My opinion- fair. Act 2 went fine, she delivers the Hojotohos with force and power, but during Act 3 she was pinched at the top and her pairing with Kampe and that leads to "O hehrstes Wunder! Herrlichste Maid!" was not the gorgeous moment one hopes for (indeed, perhaps it's the musical highlight of the entire Ring). The remainder of the afternoon saw no turnaround in the vocal department from her.
Since Walkure is a much different dramatic set up than anything else in the Ring, it's essentially one confrontation between people in love (familial, sexual, romantic, etc.) after another, it is a different animal to stage. There are no dragons, rainbow bridges, giants, dwarfs to make a big show of things. It has just one murder, and of course the Valkyries set piece, which was the highpoint of the staging, with the various limbs of heroes scattered all around the ever-present disc that forms the stage. When the Valkyries depart the stage an indelible visual moment is created. The fire surrounding Brunnhilde at the end was beautiful, but the effect was lessened by the fact that not all of the lanterns came on when they should have and one didn't come on at all, despite the harried attempts of a member of the stage crew. Achim Freyer's production is good, but overall it doesn't achieve the glories of his Rheingold in execution or imagination.
Musically, the performance by the orchestra was superb and the muffled sound created by hiding the orchestra was not apparent at all this time. What was apparent however, and this something LA Opera needs to FIX NOW is that background noise that sounds like an old air conditioner that was audible throughout the entire performance (and present again on Saturday's performance of Die Vogel. It's white noise and it's hugely distracting. PLEASE FIX THIS!
One last comment. I hardly ever go to matinee performances because of the audience one usually finds there. When Domingo bowed out of the final two performances, I changed my tickets because, well, given a choice between Christopher Ventris and Domingo, who are you going to choose, right? So I ended up at the matinee. The audience was hands down the most obnoxious, rude, loud and inconsiderate to which I have ever seen been subjected. Hey stupid lady in seat 1 of row L- if you hadn't been eating your lunch out of a paper bag during the entire 3rd act, your hands probably wouldn't have been dirty. And exactly what the fuck do you think your husband was going to do about it anyway? As for the two biddies who kept talking in row M until you were shushed, you really need to stay home, because it's obvious you too are way too old to learn any new etiquette tricks. Appalling. Simply appalling.