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Lead singers voice strong dissent over L.A. Opera's 'Ring' cycle

May 13, 2010 |  5:13 pm

Ring

Los Angeles Opera is spending $32 million on its production of Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle. Now it appears that this expensive ring has been somewhat tarnished before its big unveiling.

In a break with informal but widely common protocol, the two lead singers of the company's "Ring" have said they are unhappy with the staging in advance of the opening at the end of this month.

The singers -- British tenor John Treleaven and American soprano Linda Watson -- have criticized director Achim Freyer's production as artistically flawed and physically dangerous. They also have spoken up about their backstage skirmishes with the idiosyncratic auteur whose controversial staging has already divided audiences and critics alike since the individual "Ring" operas were first seen starting last year.

Treleaven, who plays the hero Siegfried, said he has been hurt twice during stand-alone productions of "Siegfried" and "Götterdämmerung" that ran earlier. The culprit is the severely raked, or angled, stage that forces singers to perform as if on the side of a slope. The rake is among the steepest ever used by the company.

Watson, who plays the role of Brünnhilde, called the set the "most dangerous stage I've been on in my entire career." She added that she has nothing against modern operatic interpretations, citing her appearance in Robert Wilson's "Ring" in Paris a few years ago. "That production was difficult, but it wasn't dangerous," she said.

The singers said that Freyer doesn't appear to care about the dramatic and psychological depth that they bring to their respective roles. Both singers emphasized that their criticisms are not personal in nature.

L.A. Opera defended the safety of its stage and its choice of hiring Freyer, saying that the German director is still the right man for the job. But Christopher Koelsch, the company's head of artistic planning, said that Freyer may not have done the best job in selling his vision of the production to the cast.

Plácido Domingo, who is the general director of the company and appears in "Die Walküre," said in a statement that he happens "to admire Freyer’s interpretation of the ‘Ring,’ but there have been plenty of other times in my long career when I didn’t agree with a director’s concept of a piece.”

The company has been gradually rolling out its version of the "Ring" in installments since last season. Three complete cycles of the 19-hour epic will be performed from May 29 to June 26.

Read the full story on the controversy surrounding L.A. Opera's "Ring" production.

-- David Ng

Photo: John Treleaven and Linda Watson in L.A. Opera's production of "Götterdämmerung." Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

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