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Graham Clark: 21 'Ring' cycles and counting

February 15, 2009 |  9:00 am

Graham Clark, left, and Arnold Bezuyen, center, in 'Das Rheingold'

They call them "Ringies," or "Ringheads" -- fans who travel the world to follow the rarely produced complete productions of Wagner's approximately 15-hour, four-part mythological opera cycle, "The Ring of the Nibelung." No doubt there will be plenty of Ringies in town when Los Angeles Opera begins its presentation of the four operas in sequence, beginning in April 2010, staged by German director Achim Freyer.

Until then, throughout Los Angeles Opera's 2009-2010 season, Ringies and future Ringies will have to content themselves with the chance to sample the operas one by one: The first, "Das Rheingold" (The Rhinegold), will open Saturday at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

And what do you call someone who has not attended, but performed in -- count 'em -- 21 "Ring" cycles? The word "tired" springs to mind.

Graham Clark But English tenor Graham Clark -- who has accomplished this astonishing feat --  still finds the process energizing. In "Das Rheingold," above, he portrays the blacksmith Mime (the small, greenish, big-headed fellow); the photo at left is how Clark looks out of costume. In various "Ring" productions, Clark has alternated between the roles of Mime and Loge (above, Arnold Bezuyen, in red, portrays Loge). 

What keeps it interesting? Clark says every director has a different take on the mythological epic. "It's an allegory, open to interpretation," he says. Clark describes a Metropolitan Opera production as his most "prescriptive and conservative." On the wilder side: "In one production, a long time ago, I was a Japanese samurai, and everything was very stylized."

Clark calls Freyer's new "Ring" staging "hugely ambitious and wonderfully inventive.... I don't think you can put a label on it. It's tremendous for someone like me, who has done the 'Ring' before, to get a chance to start from the beginning, all over again."

For more on the inventive mind of director Freyer, read the today's Arts & Books story.

-- Diane Haithman

Photos: A dress rehearsal of L.A. Opera's "Das Rheingold," credit Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times; Graham Clark, courtesy of Los Angeles Opera