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L.A. Opera's 'Ring' cycle gets ready to roll

May 15, 2010 |  9:00 am


Ready or not, here comes Richard Wagner's "Ring." All 19 hours of it. That' s right -- 19 (with intermissions).

After 10 years of gestation and a final tab expected to come in at $32 million, Los Angeles Opera will finally push out its big baby of an epic on May 29, with three full cycles running through June 26. It is the largest and most expensive production that this young (by opera standards) company has ever attempted.

The massive effort has left its share of stretch marks on L.A. Opera. We'll get to those later but for now, let's mark the occasion by highlighting a series of stories in Sunday's Arts & Books section dedicated to the artistry, history and technology behind this timeless behemoth of operatic theater.

Music critic Mark Swed leads the series with a notebook piece that touches on Wagner's appeal-repulsion dialectic through the years, among other topics. Swed addresses Wagner's well-known anti-Semitism, scholarly literature spawned from the "Ring" and the cycle's influence on culture today.

In case you're new to the "Ring," we have a handy Cliff's Notes-style guide that offers easily digestible plot summary for all four operas -- "Das Rheingold," "Die Walküre," "Siegfried" and "Götterdämmerung." And for experienced Wagner fans, it can serve as a quick-and-easy refresher course on all things "Ring."

Technology geeks will have a lot to admire in L.A.'s "Ring," which employs digital effects galore, but also some old-fashioned rope-and-pulley tricks for good measure. We've dissected the climactic scene of "Götterdämmerung," which is the most technically complex of the entire cycle, and created some cool graphics that reveal the machinery working behind the scenes.

Few "Ring's" arrive without controversy and L.A.'s production is no exception. The two lead singers recently voiced their unhappiness with director Achim Freyer's staging and have called the steeply raked stage dangerous for performers. We offer a brief look at opera controversies both past and present -- as well as a glimpse into the often hysterical contortions that publicists and agents go through to hide them from the public.

-- David Ng


The LA Times Ring Festival website

Photo: A scene from "Das Rheingold" at L.A. Opera. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times