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Critic's notebook: The miracle of the 'L.A. Ring'

June 28, 2010 |  6:00 am
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The “L.A. Ring,” as Achim Freyer’s production of Wagner’s four-opera cycle, “Ring of the Nibelung,” has come to be known, began May 29 under a cloud. Two lead singers had dissed their director. Ticket sales proved a disappointment. Picketers protested a composer’s anti-Semitism. Wagnerians unhappy with Freyerian fantasy used the Internet to spew dissent. The $31-million production had left Los Angeles Opera in debt and, for a short while, uncertain of its future. 

The anarchic ancillary Los Angeles Ring Festival looked to be, as one theater director put it to me, anything the cat dragged in. Not many critics came from afar – like tourists they were discouraged by the expense of a cycle drawn out to nine days instead the normal six or seven – and some who had previewed the company's earlier outings weren’t eager for more. Europeans grumbled early on about how bad the orchestra sounded. Plácido Domingo, singing Siegmund in “Die Walküre” in the first cycle, struggled, causing speculation that maybe the 69-year-old tenor, appearing for the first time here since his abdominal surgery in the fall for cancer, may be at the end of his singing career.

OvationBut what a difference a month makes.

The third and final cycle ended Saturday night with a fullish moon  and an outright triumph. Throughout the third cycle the entire mood had changed on stage and in the audience. A festival atmosphere began to pervade the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and its plaza. Audiences came vividly dressed and clearly excited. The orchestra and singers rose to unexpected new levels. Everything seemed to work. Domingo, in the third “Walküre,” was terrific, sounding strong and scampering up the steep rake of the set for his curtain call like a kid. (He chalked up his earlier performance to something he had eaten.)

If you believe the naysayers, Freyer’s curtain calls when the four operas were first staged individually over the past two seasons occasioned the loudest booing in the history of the Chandler (an exaggeration in my estimation). This much I can attest to:  The director’s curtain call Saturday was greeted by deafening cheers. He emerged a hero. And this show, by this final cycle, had become an instant L.A. legend, spoken of in the hushed awe of, say, Peter Brook's epic “Mahabharata” staging during the Olympic Arts Festival in 1984.

What happened? To find out click here.

-- Mark Swed

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Photo: Top, the cast of "Götterdämmerung" takes a curtain call as the "Ring ends. Below, the audience cheers. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times.

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