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L.A. Opera scooped by 1930 'Ring' at the Shrine

June 28, 2010 | 12:55 pm
Ring Los Angeles’ first “Ring” was a triumph.  So was its second.  As it turns out, for all its trumpeting about the need for every major city to see Wagner's influential tetraology, Los Angeles Opera wasn’t the first to show it to L.A. after all. John Suppe, a professor of geosciences at Princeton and National Taiwan University, has e-mailed to say that his parents attended a “Ring” cycle at Shrine Auditorium in 1930. And sure enough, clips from The Times back him up.

In March 1930, the German Opera Company brought a full production of the “Ring” to L.A., and on the nights in between “Das Rheingold,” “Die Walküre,” “Siegfried” and “Götterdämmerung,” the touring Germans presented Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” and “Tristan und Isolde,” as well as what The Times described as a great rarity -- Mozart’s “Don Juan,” which we now know as “Don Giovanni.” 

According to The Times clips, a local impresario, L. E. Behymer had attempted as early as 1912 to bring Bayreuth’s “Ring” production to L.A., but World War I made that impossible, and it wasn’t until 1930 that he finally succeeded in getting a “Ring” here. The touring company arrived in a 14-car train, with the dragon in "Siegfried" "requiring the better portion of a single car." Among the company’s “ingenious contrivances” was a smoke-and-cloud machine.

Ticket sales for some performances suffered because of rain, but “Götterdämmerung” sold out the huge Shrine (which had a capacity of 6,700 back then). And although at the end of her career, Johanna Gadski -- a noted German soprano who had emigrated to the U.S. and was a regular at the Metropolitan Opera before the War -- seemed to have made a big impression as Brünnhilde.

L.A. Opera still gets bragging rights for first home-grown production of the “Ring” and probably for the first complete “Ring.” The first act of the Shrine's “Götterdämmerung” was said to have lasted “a full hour and a half.” In fact, the act lasts at least two hours, so the opera may well have been cut by as much as 25%. 

-- Mark Swed 

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Photo: Johanna Gadsky in 1909. She sang Brünnhilde in the German Opera's 1930  "Ring" at Shrine Auditorium. Credit: Library of Congress

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