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Review: Christopher Ventris steps in for Domingo in L.A. Opera's 'Die Walkure'

April 23, 2009 | 11:40 am

Walkure 1 

As if Los Angeles Opera didn’t have enough challenges with the technical problems of realizing the extraordinarily theatrical vision of Achim Freyer and the demanding musical one of James Conlon, the company has given itself another admirable – and, these days, uncommon – task of presenting consistent casts throughout its entire run of Wagner’s “Ring.” That goes for both the initial presentations of the individual operas and for the three full cycles next year. But there is one exception.

As the company’s general director, Plácido Domingo makes the rules and he can break them.  Next week, he’s jumping into the Metropolitan Opera’s “Ring,” where the casting has been anything but consistent to begin with and has gotten much less so with many cancellations.  So Wednesday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Christopher Ventris replaced Domingo as Siegfried in L.A. Opera’s “Die Walküre,” and the British tenor will do so again for the last performance of this run Saturday night.

Ventris’ job was not easy.  Domingo is, of course, the biggest star of the production (as he is in any production of anything he sings), but he is also, at 68, still vocally formidable. The set is full of acoustical booby traps and Domingo knows this stage better than anyone, having sung on it for decades -- and he has also conducted here many times.

Ventris, who was making his L.A. Opera debut Wednesday, had to enter into Freyer’s fray with little preparation.  But he at least has this going for him:  Freyer’s heavy application of grease paint makes anyone in the role unrecognizable.

An experienced Wagnerian, Ventris did just fine.  He was undoubtedly distracted by Freyer’s subtly complex body movements, which may have also contributed to his sounding pressed at first.  But soon enough he displayed convincing ardor in his duet with Anja Kampe – Siegmund’s twin sister and lover, Sieglinde, and the most compelling performer in the cycle thus far.  And Ventris heroically faced up to Linda Watson’s Brunnhilde in the second act.

Overall, the performances have grown noticeably over two and half weeks, in dramatic focus and intensity.  Losing a star is not the end of the Wagnerian world.  The important news Wednesday was that this “Ring” can withstand cast changes if they become necessary.  And even with all the best intentions in the world, they probably will. Wagnerians are the hardiest of singers on stage.  Off, they get colds and back problems just like all other mortals.

“Die Walküre," L.A. Opera, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles; 6:30 p.m. Saturday;  $20 to $250; (213) 972-8001; running time: 4 hours, 35 minutes.

-- Mark Swed

Photo: A scene from Act II of the Los Angeles Opera production of Wagner's “Die Walküre,” with Linda Watson as Brünnhilde and Vitalij Kowaljow as Wotan.  Credit: Lawrence K.Ho/Los Angeles Times.