Das Rheingold
Review by Willard Manus

Los Angeles Opera's first staging of Richard Wagner's four-part Ring cycle got off to a memorable start with its production of DAS RHEINGOLD. Directed and designed by Achim Freyer (and his daughter Amanda), the production is a spectacular version of Wagner's 1869 prologue to the cycle (the remaining three works of which will be mounted over the next few years). Freyer, a painter and sculptor as well as a director, has been given free rein (and some thirty million dollars) by L.A. Opera to give Wagner's epic creation a 21st century look and interpretation.

Freyer's stagecraft seems to know no bounds, no frets. In DAS RHEINGOLD he dresses the denizens of the opera's mysterious river-world in fantastical costumes and masks, hides the orchestra (and conductor James Conlon) under black cloth, paints the stage with

flowing, sensuous light, brings in puppets and clown-like figures (Loge, god of fire, resembles a pop-art devil) to surprise and delight the audience, wields technology (statues that rise and fall, characters who fly off into the wings) with wizardlike ease and skill. Freyer's invention is constant and unceasing, with one surprise after another coming at the audience, dazzling it with its imagination and audacity.

It would have been easy for the music and singing to have got lost in all these overwhelming special effects, but miraculously these qualities came through strongly. Conlon got rich, vibrant sounds out of his unseen orchestra and even the Nibelung, the underground dwarfs, managed to be sing robustly despite being hidden behind huge, grotesque masks.

The lead singers, Michelle DeYoung (Fricka), Gordon Hawkins (Alberich), Vitalij Kowaljow (Wotan), Ellie Dehn (Freia), Wayne Tigges (Donner), Arnold Bezuyen (Loge), Morris Robinson and Eric Halverson (as the giants), delivered the vocal goods all night long (two and a half uninterrupted hours), coping valiantly with the challenges Freyer's aggressively post-modern, circuslike production posed for them.

Fine as they were, though, and powerful as Wagner's music and story was, this DAS RHEINGOLD belonged to the Freyers and no one else.

DIE WALKURE will be performed April 4-25 at the Music Center's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave. Call 213-972-8001 or visit laopera.com