James Conlon
Los Angeles Opera Orchestra
September/October 2009
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Los Angeles
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedJohn Treleaven
MimeGraham Clark
WotanVitalij Kowaljow
AlberichOleg Bryjak
FafnerEric Halfvarson
ErdaJill Grove
BrünnhildeLinda Watson
WaldvogelStacey Tappan
The New York Times

Family Dysfunction Bathed in Cosmic Neon

The new production of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle that the German visual artist, director and designer Achim Freyer is creating for the Los Angeles Opera continues to divide audiences and critics. “Siegfried,” the third installment of this four-opera epic, was introduced on Sept. 26. At the performance on Wednesday night, conducted by James Conlon, the qualities in the production that have both captivated and exasperated Wagner buffs were on display.

Mr. Freyer, who directed the production, designed the sets and helped design the costumes and lighting, is trying to draw out the most magical and surreal elements of Wagner’s mythological story. When the lights go up on “Siegfried,” the steeply raked stage, with a rotating platform in the middle, on which the entire “Ring” production is played, is divided horizontally into lanes, using the bright neon tubes that are central to the concept. It looks like a tilted track for some cosmic foot race. Eerie creatures slowly tread in place across the stage: Valkyrie maidens with battle spears like “Star Wars” light sabers and silent gremlin figures covered head to toe in black, who move props and stalk through the staging continually.

Amid the sundry characters is our hero, Siegfried, the god Wotan’s orphaned grandson, and Mime, the befuddled and maniacal Nibelung dwarf who has raised him, both bizarre-looking. Siegfried, the tenor John Treleaven, who survived the arduous vocal challenges of this near-impossible role, wears a blue, muscled bodysuit on his upper torso and bearskin baggy pants, though his face is pasty white and his head sprouts golden locks. And Mime, the tenor Graham Clark, who brings nasal tone and sniveling humor to his portrayal, is a children’s book dwarf, with a huge head mask, greenish work apron and rubber utility gloves.

A major problem in presenting this opera is that Siegfried tenors do not come in Ewan McGregor bodies. So Mr. Freyer gives us a Siegfried out of some wild things fairy tale. As with his “Walküre,” which I saw last season, I miss the human dimension of the characters. For me the “Ring” is the ultimate depiction of a dysfunctional family.

I tried to go along with Mr. Freyer’s staging, since he creates some dazzling, whimsical and affecting imagery. The main problem is not its weirdness but its often cheap and sloppy look. In truth, this “Ring,” which is costing $32 million (and counting), is anything but cheap. Mr. Freyer, who embraces the artifice of theater, wants audiences to see the mechanics behind the magic. But time after time, the staging just looks tawdry.

In a symbolic moment, when Siegfried slays Fafner, the dragon, a wall representing the looming challenge confronting him rises onstage. At the moment of the killing, the black fabric covering the rotating platform is stripped off by some of the ever-present gremlin people to reveal blood red undercovering. Yet the material looks raggedy, and the stage trick seems not a triumph of artifice but an awkwardly executed and lamely pretentious idea.

Mr. Freyer may want to take us to the psychological inner realms of the “Ring,” but his staging is often literal-minded and obvious. When in the final scene Brünnhilde, the tenacious soprano Linda Watson, warns Siegfried not to touch her lest she vanish, like your reflection in a pond when you stir the water, we get two silent doubles onstage, a Siegfried and a Brünnhilde, during the most intimate and lonely love duet in all opera.

After a while it was hard not to see Siegfried as ridiculous, like some Blue Meanie character dressed up to perform “I Am the Walrus.” And Ms. Watson’s unearthly Brünnhilde looked like some big-haired Cher on Oscar night.

Sadly, the vocal and orchestral performances often receded to the background. Though Mr. Treleaven has a leathery voice and lacks heroic power, he had stamina and vitality, which is saying a lot. Ms. Watson sang with a cool, bright, penetrating voice that sometimes turned strident and wobbly. But when it mattered, she brought lyricism to tender passages.

The bass Vitalij Kowaljow was a vocally formidable Wotan. The robust bass-baritone Oleg Bryjak as Alberich, the alluring mezzo-soprano Jill Grove as Erda and the agile soprano Stacey Tappan as the Woodbird also sang gamely despite the trappings of their cumbersome costumes.

Mr. Conlon drew resonant, colorful playing from the orchestra, though the execution was sometimes shaky. If the pacing seemed draggy, it could be that I had simply grown tired of Mr. Freyer’s heavy-handed imagery.

Still, you can never fully assess a “Ring” until you see the entire production. That comes in May and June, when the company presents three cycles.

Anthony Tommasini | Oct. 8, 2009

Los Angeles Times

When indefatigable Los Angeles Opera music director James Conlon began his engrossing pre-performance talk before “Siegfried” on Saturday, a blazing midday sun was directly overhead at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. By the time he finished conducting the long opera, day was done. The sky had reddened but not brilliantly enough to compete with the glow lingering from director Achim Freyer’s carnival of light inside or from Wagner’s music.

Los Angeles Opera’s ring around the “Ring” has come to the third opera of the tetralogy and the one most challenging to make convincing onstage. For five hours, a know-nothing hunk attempts to figure out a thing or two. Take “Siegfried” out of context, and you might think that testosterone is all that is needed to master the world.

Yet there are marvels in this opera. Nature purifies. Wotan, the self-centered ruler of the universe, achieves enlightenment, understanding the cyclic makeup of existence and ceding power. Love emboldens Siegfried and his new bride, Brunnhilde, to laugh, live, bless the light and vow to protect the environment.

L.A. Opera has come down on the side of marvels. Its “Siegfried” is not without problems (what “Siegfried” is?), but it is wonderful. Freyer’s “Ring” is singular spectacle, part circus, part eccentric art project, part light show, part historical panoply and part ineffable philosophical exercise. And the company’s $32-million investment in it clearly is beginning to pay off.

Freyer received boos Saturday, just as the German artist had for his earlier “Ring” productions of “Das Rheingold” and “Die Walkure.” But he also got cheers, and they were adamant. Traditional Wagnerians have reason to be bewildered. Those of us who have admired Freyer’s grotesqueries for many years have equal reason to be bewildered. It all boils to how much you value bewilderment.

Freyer envisions this opera as a sort of go-east-young-man pageant of penetration. The first act begins with characters on a racetrack, with a signpost giving the direction of Ost (German for east). Siegfried forges an invincible sword, which he uses to slaughter Mime (the dwarf who raises him) and the dragon Fafner (who guards the hoard of gold and magic ring) and shatter Wotan’s spear. Siegfried’s ultimate incursion is into the fire-surrounded mountain where the former Valkyrie and now mortal Brunnhilde sleeps.

Every character in this production is weird and full of symbols, some easier to read than others. Siegfried is a clown. He has Harpo Marx’s yellow hair, Jack LaLanne’s midriff (comic book muscles in violet that turn red with the discovery of sex) and pants of bear-hide.

I won’t ruin the delightful surprise dragon, but much of this odd crowd we’ve seen before. The dwarfs, Alberich and Mime, wear masks, forcing them to convey expression exclusively through voice and body language. A woodbird, who tells Siegfried what’s what, is here part of Wotan. Erda, the primal Earth mother, and her daughter Brunnhilde share the same outlandish Afro, although their figures are pneumatic in different ways. The hand-painted costumes designed by the director and his daughter, Amanda Freyer, are magnificent works of art.

The lighting amazes. Siegfried’s sword is a glowing blue tube, which can change colors. The stage is littered with other light tubes on a large turntable, and they are also used like batons by a troupe of a dozen actors in black body suits.

These light tubes are also used by lighting designer Brian Gale in color choreography with Freyer’s projections on front and back scrims to create a three-dimensional wonderland of luminosity.

Heavy costumes, the steeply raked and moving turntable as well as flashing lights are all obstacles for singers. Furthermore, Freyer provides little in the way of sound-reinforcing surfaces. This is not, essentially, a singer’s “Ring,” which is one more upset to traditionalists. But then, the Chandler is not an acoustically apt space for Wagnerians, who happen to be an endangered species, anyway.

John Treleaven and Linda Watson, who had not been impressive in the company’s “Tristan und Isolde” in 2008, pretty much came through Saturday. Treleaven compensates for lack of projection with a lyricism that is an attractive quality in a heldentenor. Siegfried is an impossible role. After wearing himself out, a singer is faced with a half-hour duet with Brunnhilde, who is fresh as a daisy.

Treleaven’s exhaustion showed by the end, but Watson was considerate and did not upstage him. The soprano, who had had pitch problems in “Walkure,” was more secure here. Both singers seemed to have risen to the occasion.

Conlon, who conducted a lovingly spacious performance, has improved the pit. For earlier “Ring” productions, it had been covered in light-absorbing material that also seemed to suck up sound. Now partly opened, the arrangement allowed the orchestra much more presence. That means the orchestra sounds muffled only when Conlon, in consideration for his singers, holds back.

Mark Swed | Sept. 28, 2009

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 526 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast (KUSC, 12 June 2010)
A production by Achim Freyer (2009)
Possible dates: 26 September, 4, 7, 11, 17 October 2009
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.