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Beam me up, Wotan

April 13, 2009 |  1:30 pm


I caught Sunday's matinee of "Die Walküre" at the Chandler. First, an update: The fabled "Lone Boo-er" of opening night was nowhere to be heard, presumably taking the performance off for Easter.
As a veteran of four complete "Ring" cycles and a couple of extra stray performances of "Die Walküre," I went not just to bask in the pleasures of the always-estimable James Conlon in the pit and impresario Plácido Domingo's still-robust rendering of Siegmund.
I was equally eager to see director Achim Freyer's staging and designs, which have led critics, bloggers and impassioned local Wagnerians to whip themselves up to near-hysteria.
An incomplete list of comparison points for the design of the opera mentioned online include "Star Wars," a carnival, "Wheel of Fortune," the circus (both the regular and Cirque varieties), puppet shows and "The Twilight Zone."
But the opera was less than 10 minutes old when I realized it was I who had discovered the true, secret coda powering Freyer's vision. A post-performance trip to the Internet confirmed this revelation, which is clear, indisputable and undeniable, and which you can see above. 
"Star Trek"! Yes, that's where the sly 75-year-old designer — keep in mind, he was an impressionable 32 years old when the original TV show debuted in 1966 — has been channeling his source material.
Although notes in the opera program would have us believe that the duality in the face paint worn by Siegmund and Sieglinde track back to "the ancient Greek notion of the hermaphroditic division," I think it is pretty darn clear that Mr. Freyer's source is, in fact, "Star Trek" episode No. 70, "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," which first aired in January 1969.
In that show, two aliens — each with a multi-hued facial color divided vertically with a stripe, but in different yin and yang patterns, exactly like what Freyer has given Siegmund and Sieglinde — bring their ongoing battle of wills on to the Starship Enterprise. The episode ends with a trip to their planet and the revelation that the dispute between the rival factions has caused the population to extinguish itself. (Götterdämmerung, anybody?)
Unlike all the other 20/20 hindsight naysayers online, I will boldly go where no one else has and predict that Freyer's true intentions will be ultimately revealed in the upcoming third and fourth operas of this "Ring" cycle:
— This summer, L.A. Opera will announce that the third opera in Freyer's cycle is being retitled "Siegfried: The Wrath of Khan." In this version, the youthful hero not only wrestles a bear, forges a sword and slays a dragon, but also fights a duel with the late actor Ricardo Montalbán, who, in Freyer's boldest staging move yet, is transported on stage as a holographic image.
— Next, while this "Götterdämmerung" keeps its traditional title, it will be revealed early on that Valhalla and the Rhein countryside below have really been located on Planet Vulcan the whole time. All doubts fall away when the Gibichungs' chorus appears wearing pointy ears and Leonard Nimoy masks.

— Christopher Smith

Left: Plácido Domingo as Siegmund in "Die Walküre." Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times. Right: Frank Gorshin as Bele in "Star Trek" episode No. 70, "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Comments () | Archives (5)

Thank God satire still exists. I cannot wait to see how the great unwashed will self-deprecatingly tear this apart.

Thank you for 15 minutes of enjoyment.

why does the LA Times hate LA opera?
If they did a "traditional" Ring staging, one could draw comparisons
to Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings", Ewoks, Yoda, etc.
At this point, Star Trek is in everything!

I have to say that when I saw that makeup my first thought was Gorshin Star Trek episode. That didn't help the mood much. Then I wondered if Freyer had seen the episode and stolen it, or whether it was really the heavy intellectual load of ancient Greece. Either way it was a Captain Obvious moment. I mean, why not have those pantomime doubles carry signs saying, "I'm her Brother."? He thought it necessary to have a sign pointing "Ost" so we would know which way to look when the Sieglinde was advised to head East. Subtlety is not one of Freyer's techniques.

You only have to go back to the Julie Taymor Flying Dutchmen to remember her pantomime Wandering Jew, who was the spitting image of Arte Johnson's unforgettable character on Laugh-In: Tyrone F Hornei. That one was a mood-breaker too. At the time I figured Julie was too young to have seen Laugh In, but who knows? Maybe she meant it. After all, she was trying to turn the opera into a feminist polemic.

Why is it that where I'd like to have illumination from an opera director, what I get from these auteurs is more like a disco mirror ball?

Surprised no one has mentioned Hel, the half-faced goddess of the underworld in Norse mythology. It's more consistent with the Ring background than the program's citation of Greek sources.

As soon as I saw the makeup, I thought of that Star Trek episode too!

And Wotan kind of reminded me of one of those giant muppet dudes. (I'm sure there's some deep meaning there...)


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