Das Rheingold

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Los Angeles
(213) 972-8001

“Los Angeles now boasts a Ring des Nibelungen it can call its own,” said Allan Ulrich in the Financial Times. And if the L.A. Opera’s take on the first installment in Wagner’s revered tetralogy is any indication, this will “look like no other production of the composer’s 15-hour epic tale of ambition, greed, and redemption.” General director Plácido Domingo daringly hired painter and theater artist Achim Freyer to direct the $32 million sequence. The bet paid off, as he “has given the city of the angels a Rheingold that represents a singular and daring act of artistic imagination.” Freyer uses outré costumes, fantastical masks, and heavy doses of Brechtian artifice to create a Rheingold that’s part satirical circus, part folk tale, part videogame. It looks astonishing and doesn’t sound bad, either.

Yes, Freyer’s Rheingold is two and a half uninterrupted hours long, but it’s never boring, said Timothy Mangan in the Orange County, Calif., Register. The god Wotan, whose actions trigger crisis upon crisis, wears a cage-like helmet that has two faces—to symbolize his habit of saying one thing and meaning another. Loge, the god of fire and also a trickster, wears a pointy red costume and clownish makeup. The gnome Alberich, whose lust for power drives him to steal the gold from the bottom of the Rhine, is given a disproportionately large green globe of a head. The director’s “wildly fanciful” interpretations and spectacular futuristic effects somehow result in a production that’s actually quite faithful to “the magical, mythical world” Wagner envisioned.

“Not everything works,” said Alan Rich in Variety. The cast and crew are still struggling to hit their cues, and the costumes and set design sometimes create acoustical problems. But there’s plenty here to be awed by, including a “superior vocal ensemble” led by Vitalij Kowaljow and Michelle DeYoung as squabbling husband and wife Wotan and Fricka. Beneath a covered orchestra pit—which makes the stage seem like “a floating entity”—conductor James Conlon superbly guides a 92-piece orchestra. It’s difficult for any production to do justice to Wagner’s “stupendous” score. But Domingo and the L.A. Opera deserve praise for “aiming so high.”