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La Fura dels Baus 'Rheingold' in the movie theaters

March 18, 2009 | 10:00 am

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Were Los Angeles as progressive in its rapid transportation as it can be in its opera, the two most arresting Wagner productions anywhere these days might have been witnessed back to back on Sunday.  At 11 in the morning, a visually dazzling version of “Das Rheingold” from Valencia, Spain, was shown at the Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills.  Twenty minutes after it ended, eight miles away at the Music Center, Los Angeles Opera offered the last performance of its “Rheingold” run.

The film documents a production by the flashy futurist Spanish troupe La Fura dels Baus created for Santiago Calatrava’s futurist recent opera house, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía.  The company has been assembling the four operas of the “Ring” over the past few years and will mount two full cycles in June.  The film is part of the Emerging Pictures series of opera and ballet offerings on Sunday mornings with repeats the following Thursday evening.

Like L.A.’s Achim Freyer production, the Valencia counterpart takes place in a realm of wild imagination.  The time is neither past nor future but outside of history as we know it. High intersects with low tech in surprising ways.  Both productions take extravagant licenses with light, film projections and imagery.  The Fura dels Baus extravaganza, codirected by Carlos Padrissa and conducted by Zubin Mehta, is both weirdly organic and frighteningly industrial. 

Rheingold_foto_045_c_palau_de_les_6 The three Rhine maidens in creepy aqua gear splash in tanks.  The Rhine’s gold is even creepier -– a giant golden baby much cloned in pods apparently through the help of giant golden blood corpuscles.  The gods swirl about on lifts moved by some sort of creatures.  The giants get massive prosthetic devices.  Loge, the wily god of fire, toots around on a Segway.  The realm of the dwarfs looks like a scene of nightmare ducts from the film “Brazil.”

Most amazing is Valhalla, the home of the gods that is erected at the end.  Suspended acrobats in Spiderman costumes begin to twitch as they slowly emerge from their fetal positions.  Eventually they form a huge human vessel that has becomes the stunning symbol for the production.

It was much more difficult to get excited about the musical end of things Sunday, however.  Mehta was generally incisive and the cast decent, but the Music Hall 3 is no music hall.  It is a disgusting place to watch an opera.  The sound, advertised as surround, was one-dimensional, metallic and cold as ice.  “Rheingold” begins in revelatory mystery and a giant single chord emerges from the bottom of the orchestra.  But you have to have bass and boom for that to work.

I also hope I’m not alone in finding the crunching sounds and rancid smells of popcorn a magic killer at the beginning of the “Ring.”  Then again, I was just about alone on Sunday, so few showed up in Beverly Hills.  Unlike the popular Saturday morning Met broadcasts in movie theaters, the Laemmle chain -- which is also showing the Emerging Pictures films at the Playhouse in Pasadena and will add the Town Center in Encinco on March 29 for a “Tristan and Isolde” from Milan’s “La Scala” -– hasn’t done much to advertise the series.

Still, if you want to know what is going on in the world of opera, this series is far more cosmpolitan and important than the Met’s offerings.  And for all my issues with the screening, it was effective enough that I immediately started checking airfare to Spain in June on my iPhone, especially since there is no word yet whether the rest of this “Ring” will be made available. 

You have one more chance to catch the Valencia “Rheingold” at the Music Hall 3 or Playhouse Thursday night at 7:30.

-- Mark Swed

Photo: Rhine maidens in their tanks (top) and a human Vallaha (bottom) from the La Fura dels Baus "Rheingold" in Valencia.   Credit: Tato Baeza / Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia 

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