[Note: This post has been updated (2) as of 6:11 PM Eastern on 22 Feb. See below.]
We previously showed you four production photos from the new Los Angeles Opera production of Das Rheingold staged and directed by Achim Freyer which premieres tonight. We now bring you the just released video "trailer" for the production.
Fasten your seat belts, kiddies. It's going to be a bumpy night.
Update (8:35 AM Eastern on 22 Feb): We've now watched the above video some gazillion times, and (Lord help us!) we're beginning to see some genuine and arresting dramatic and aesthetic possibilities (underline, possibilities) in this "Puppet Rheingold". If only we could figure out what all those bloody light tubes are about. And the "airplane".
This is one of those rare-case Konzept productions we can't dismiss out of hand or at a remove. We'd have to see the whole thing, preferably in the house, before passing an informed judgment. We're waiting anxiously for the opening-night reviews to come in, and we'll report here on S&F when they all become available.
Update 2 (6:11 PM Eastern on 22 Feb): The major opening-night reviews are beginning to come in. Here are the first four.
Mike Silverman for the Associated Press (this review has been picked up by a number of AP member newspapers):
[I]t would be nice to report that the [Los Angeles Opera] had struck gold with the opening installment [of the Ring], "Das Rheingold," which premiered Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
And musically, there's much to admire, from the strong conducting of James Conlon and the high quality of the orchestra to excellent work by some individual singers. Dramatically, however, the production by German artist and director Achim Freyer, though based on an intriguing concept, proves for the most part frustratingly static and inert.
Any production of Richard Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold melds a marvelous alchemy of music, orchestra, singing, acting and staging. No one has delivered every element perfectly but Los Angeles Opera’s new production Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was thrilling in many respects, and even the questionable aspects were fascinating, for the most part.
The production was the first Ring opera for 74-year-old German artist-director Achim Freyer and his concepts ranged from gripping to perplexing and, finally, to goofy. Predictably, Freyer’s curtain calls at the end elicited some boos, but only a few; most in the audience seemed content to applaud the singers, conductor and orchestral musicians.
Achim Freyer is a brilliant genius. I think he's my hero, too. Saturday night he accomplished the impossible. He made me – an imperfect Wagnerite if there ever was one – wish that "Das Rheingold" was even longer. Forgive my awe.
Los Angeles Opera's long-awaited, $32 million production of Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle has finally opened. Freyer, a German painter among other things, is the director/designer of the production. He has invented his own theatrical language – a particular kind of movement (mostly slowish) and extravagant visuals, part avant-garde, a little comic book, certainly surreal, and very, very colorful. Just to look at his "Das Rheingold" is to be entertained, but it's even better than that. Finally, we have a director who not only can keep up with Wagner, but who offers an art work of his own on the same exalted level.
“The adventure,” Los Angeles Opera promises in its ads for “Das Rheingold,” “begins.” And so Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the first opera in Los Angeles’ first complete staging of Wagner’s epic tetralogy, “Der Ring des Nibelung,” began.
So did the weirdness. And the discussion.
Achim Freyer — the visionary, Brechtian, Postmodern if you will but ultimately unclassifiable German painter and theater artist — is at the helm as director and designer. We’ll be in the grip (whether gratefully or argumentatively) of Wagnerian and Freyerian extravagance for a long time, what with the three remaining operas to be spread out over the rest of this season and next, culminating in three “Ring” cycles and a citywide festival in spring 2010.
Check back here later for possible additions to the above four review links.
(Added 22 Feb at 8:01 PM Eastern)
The world began on the stage of Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Saturday night and, through a series of small and large disasters, was led to the prospect of a glowing future. That's what happens at the end of part one of Richard Wagner's stupendous "Ring" tetralogy, as Wotan's mighty swindle has left the golden Ring spinning out of control. It might also apply to the L.A. Opera's first-ever venture into the grandest of grand opera's musical, dramatic and booby-trapped ventures, from which it emerges not quite unscathed
Not everything works. An intermix of lighting elements — bright bands rising and falling as the Rhine Maidens suffer the loss of their Gold — does needless battle with the somber surge of the music. Later, the grisly humor in the scene in the Nibelung workshop is diminished by the use of electronic percussion instead of real anvils.
What does work, however — and did on opening night even with the normal assortment of missed cues — is pure stage magic.
(Added 23 Feb at 18:28 PM Eastern)
UP ONE RUNG: Okay, here’s our Ring, -- or Chapter One, anyhow -- trailing its $-multi-million price tag, its years-long saga of rumor and expectation, raised hopes and dashed. By now they’ll probably have ironed out the inevitable first-night glitches in this fearsome mechanism that makes the old Grendel set look like Tiddley-Winks. At the dress rehearsal they had to stop, because Achim Freyer’s stage machinery wouldn’t allow his world to swing open and permit passage to Alberich’s underworld. Those of us privileged to witness this mini-disaster held our breath on opening night. That time, the world swung open on cue. So, in Achim Freyer’s hands, does Wagner’s world, the one which begins and ends in the span of eighteen hours of music drama – throbbing, chromatic, heroic, exasperating, gorgeous, unforgettable.
(Added 23 Feb at 20:25 PM Eastern)
Finally, after valiant attempts and sporadic tantalising morsels, Los Angeles now boasts a Ring des Nibelungen it can call its own, and if the opening instalment is representative, it will look like no other production of Wagner’s 15-hour epic of ambition, greed and redemption currently on the boards. Fortunately, it will probably sound like the best of the rest.
[Achim] Freyer has given the city of the angels a Rheingold that represents a singular and daring act of artistic imagination. It owes nothing to contemporary Wagner production styles, either brilliantly lit abstraction in the post-second world war Bayreuth manner or the ubiquitous and politically motivated wrenching of time and place posited in the name of “universality”.
(Added 25 Feb at 16:15 PM Eastern)
L.A. Opera’s Ring is the first ever mounted around here, not counting a cute condensed version that breezed in and out of Long Beach a couple of years ago.
The production — design and direction both — is the work of Achim Freyer, a German visual genius whose previous work here includes the spectacular Damnation of Faust. Not for Freyer this baloney of a transplanted Ring into the Wild West, or a Freudian rewrite. An abstractionist in Germany’s opera houses and art galleries, a much-honored painter adept at expressing much with minimums of light and line, Freyer has created a Ring that is deeply, intensely — and, for the most part, gorgeously — about itself.
(Added 26 Feb at 14:45 PM Eastern)
Rip Rense for The Rip Post (an author and publication with which we're totally unfamiliar, but as the review seems a serious attempt at serious criticism it's included here)
In Richard Wagner's "Das Rheingold," the first of the four operas in his "Ring Cycle," the Rheingold is stolen by the hideous, malicious dwarf, Alberich, after he renounces love.
In L.A. Opera's "Das Rheingold," which debuted this past weekend, the "Rheingold" was stolen by a man with a hideous, malicious dwarf brain, Achim Freyer, after he renounced love of opera. Or at least respect.
Freyer is the so-called director and designer of L.A. Opera's first-ever staging of the titanic four-opera saga of gods, half-gods, humans, and foibles, "Der Ring Des Nibelungen," and it's liable to be the last. This Ring could be headed down the critical sink. Even the L.A. Times' Mark Swed, notorious for getting breathless to the point of near hysteria over radical reinterpretations, could not bring himself to endorse this atrocity. Instead, in his “Rheingold” review, Swed mostly played reporter and reserved final critical judgment.
(Added 26 Feb at 15:05 PM Eastern)
Swords and sorcery of the hoary sort are banished, of course, from the first installment of Wagner's unrivaled four-opera epic, Der Ring des Nibelungen, unveiled by German visionary Achim Freyer for Los Angeles Opera. So there's no trace of heroes in horned helmets and breastplates as in storybook stagings. Nor, moving on to the postwar 1950s, do starkly clinical protagonists stare at each other under spotlights in some timeless place, nor do Rhine maidens turn into hookers, nor will there be leather-jacketed Valkyries riding motorcycles. Nor are there any of the other high-flown characterizations European stage directors usually visit upon this great enveloping music drama.
What we have from Freyer is a provocative painting in motion, one that moves to the music's impulse and poetry, that embodies a touch of the surreal and the Expressionist -- think the Berliner Ensemble, modern-dance pioneer Kurt Jooss, and Bauhaus -- all spilling from the director's potent imagination.
(Added 27 Feb at 10:02 PM Eastern)
We modern people like to think we are building a society obsessed with reason and technology, while actually we are building a society obsessed with myth and magic — not just light sabers and Batmobiles, but godlike directors and digitally improved actors. We have become so comfortable in faux mythological worlds, and so drenched in CGI stereotypes, that they no longer pack much shock or awe. Who cares anymore when a dark figure expands to twice its size or hurls lightning from its fingertips? Who cares when a man and woman of literally impossible beauty manage to kiss?
More and more we find ourselves saying, “So what?”
Now, a mad German theatrical genius named Achim Freyer has seized control of the stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and dragged the human imagination straight out of its CGI stupor, kicking and screaming. The vehicle is the mother ship of all mythological excess: Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Niebelungen [sic], which draws on the same Nordic sources as Tolkein and Stan Lee, and explores the same themes of corrupting power and the redemptive power of love.
(Added 2 March at 4:50 PM Eastern)
LA Opera’s “Das Rheingold” brings a number of unusual references — try Dali and Picasso, Fellini, and “Hellraiser” on for size — to the 19th-century Wagner opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
With this first installment in the company’s historic foray into Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle, director and designer Achim Freyer introduces a surreal motif that sets the stage for three more productions that will continue the story about a magic ring that grants its bearer dominion over a fantastic world of dwarfs, giants, gods and mortals.
In his dream/nightmare vision of “Das Rheingold,” Freia and the Rhinemaidens have bloody-looking red mouths and bald white heads, reminiscent of demons from a horror film. In the beginning, they float ominously with their mirror images in the flowing waters of the Rhine River, created of billowing fabric agitated by people underneath.
In general, the characters seem somewhat abstract and rarely move about the stage or seem to interact with each other. The gods, Wotan, Fricka, et al, wear costumes seemingly inspired by "Hellraiser," and stand behind Dali- and Picasso-like cut-outs that serve as both set design and costume, emphasizing the sense that Freyer (and co-costume designer daughter Amanda Freyer) has created a live painting on stage. (Fricka’s long fake arms actually recalled a character in the surreal “fishy, fishy” scene in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life.”)
(Added 6 March at 1:45 PM Eastern)
With the recent opening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of Das Rheingold, the first of the four operas in Wagner’s grand design, Der Ring des Nibelungen has arrived in LA, and with a splashy and uber-sensorial style courtesy of visionary German director Achim Freyer. Anyone who recalls Freyer’s eye-popping, dream-themed work on Berlioz’ La Damnation de Faust in 2005 wriggled with anticipation for his Ring vision, and he hasn’t disappointed.
Freyer’s design involves everything but a straight, figure-on-ground staging. Scale and costumes are distorted, with singers placed inside hallucinatory and/or cartoon-ish jumbo costumes and seem to be lifted high off the stage, with more guy wire action than any LA Opera production in memory. A steeply raked disc on the stage is used to fantastical effect, including a stunning moment when the disc raises to reveal the subterranean dwarves’ workshop. Freyer’s work, aided by his daughter Amanda Freyer in costume design and Brian Gale in lighting design, is by definition the distinguishing element in this Ring, at this time and in this city.
(Added 6 March at 1:45 PM Eastern)
Los Angeles Opera's first venture in to Wagner's Ring is certainly not perfect — no staging of the Ring ever is — but for all its eccentricities, it is unquestionably the Real Thing. Brazenly theatrical and strongly marked by its director's particular stylistic tics, the LA Opera Rheingold nevertheless stays true to the task at hand: telling the story that Wagner actually wrote, letting the work speak for itself and not imposing some external idea of what it means or, in the director's mind, "should" mean.
Achim Freyer, directing the Ring for the first time, imposes himself in matters of style in this production, but not in matters of substance. It looks like an Achim Freyer production from beginning to end, but Freyer is directing the work that Wagner actually created, not some entirely different work that he wishes Wagner had created. Because the tale is set in a distant and supernatural world, the unusual appearance of objects and characters makes more sense than it would in a more "realistic" work such as, say, Eugene Onegin. The gods are gods, the dwarfs are dwarfs, the giants are giants, and magic is magic. The Tarnhelm — the magic helmet that allows its wearer invisibility or transformation in to creatures large and small — looks like a golden top hat here, but it is still a magic helmet. The [r]ing itself is easy to follow around the stage, as it is represented by a glowing orb.