A Wagner Summer in the Golden West – 2010

Even in a period when economic realities have forced opera companies to cut back on plans, the West Coast continues the extraordinarily ambitious mountings of Wagner’s major works.

A year ago, we highlighted upcoming performances of Wagner’s “Ring” in our feature California Rings Up Wagner – 2009-2010. A similar feature in the previous year also included anticipations of Wagner’s “Tannhauser” by three opera companies in California (See California Does Wagner – 2008).

2010 is the year in which the masterful  James Conlon conducts three complete four opera presentations of “The Ring of the Nibelungs” in Achim Freyer’s extraordinary production in Los Angeles.

Another Wagnerian giant, Conductor Donald Runnicles, oversees the music of “Die Walkuere”, the next episode of Francesca Zambello’s “American Ring” in San Francisco.

During the same month in that city, a reigning Isolde, Deborah Voigt, portrays Minnie, the Girl of the Golden West, in a production conducted by Nicola Luisotti. San Francisco Opera celebrates the 100th birthday of “Fanciulla del West”, the most Wagnerian of  the operas of Puccini, who was  the most successful of the later opera composers who adopted Wagnerian principles of leitmotiv and orchestral participation in the dramatic action.

And, at the Seattle Opera, a company whose name is now almost synonymous with Wagner’s “Ring”, a new production of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” is being launched.

The following Wagnerian feasts are being prepared in the Cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Welcome to these banquets!

Das Rheingold (Los Angeles Opera) May 29, June 8 and June 18, 2010.

The Ring’s prologue opera is presented with a strong Wagnerian cast and the impressive Los Angeles Opera Orchestra under the baton of James Conlon in Achim Freyer’s extraordinary production. Vitalij Kowaljow, one of the greatest of the new generation of bassos is the Wotan, in a cast that stars Richard Paul Fink as a definitive Alberich, Arnold Bezuyen as Loge and Graham Clark as Mime.

[Below: Wotan (Vitalij Kowaljow, center in cage mask) holds the Ring of the Nibelungs, while the gods Froh (Beau Gibson, left), Donner (Wayne Tigges, right center) and Fricka (here, Michelle DeYoung, right) urge him to relinquish it to save the goddess Freia (Ellie Dehn, center rear, in front of the stack of gold coins); edited image, based on a Monika Rittershaus photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

[For my review of the first performance of this production, see: Achim Freyer’s Fascinating “Rheingold” Begins L. A. “Ring” – March 11, 2009.]

Die Walkuere (Los Angeles Opera) May 30, June 10 and 20, 2010.

No opera-goer and certainly no admirer of Wagner’s works should pass up an opportunity to hear Placido Domingo, one of the greatest tenors of all time, whose signature role for more than a decade has been Siegmund.  The idea of traveling to Los Angeles to see Domingo in the Freyer “Ring” is made even more irresistible with a cast that also includes the sweetly sung Wotan of Vitalij Kowaljow. Michelle deYoung sings Sieglinde and Los Angeles Opera’s leading Wagnerian soprano, Linda Watson, is the Bruennhilde.

[Below: Bruennhilde (Linda Watson, center back) arranges for a flight of safety to the East for Sieglinde (here Anja Kampe, center front); edited image, based on a Monika Rittershaus photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

[For my review of the first performance of this production, see: Sonic Splendor: Domingo, Conlon Lead Impressively Sung, Engaging “Walkuere” for L. A. Opera – April 12, 2009. For my review of the performance in the first Los Angeles Opera “Ring”, see: An Incredible Domingo and Other Marvels of the Los Angeles Opera Ring – “Walkuere”, May 30, 2010.]

Siegfried (Los Angeles Opera), June 3, 13(m) and 23, 2010.

One of the extraordinary features of the Freyer “Ring” is the layering of symbolism that adds new insights into Wagner’s complex interplay between the text being sung by the principals and the leitmotivs played by the orchestra. These insights are particularly evident in Freyer’s presentation of Siegfried, effectively portrayed by Cornish tenor John Treleaven, in the final two operas of the “Ring”. Linda Watson’s Bruennhilde, Graham Clark’s Mime, and Kowaljow’s Traveler all demonstrate the high quality of contemporary Wagnerian singing.

[Below: Siegfried (John Treleaven) whose body is now red, signifying his love for Bruennhilde (Linda Watson); edited image, based on a Monika Rittershaus photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

[For my review of the first performance of this production, see:  Achim Freyer’s “Siegfried” at Los Angeles Opera: John Treleaven Heads Impressive Cast – September 26, 2009.]

Goetterdaemmerung (Los Angeles Opera) June 6, 16 and 26, 2010.

Some would argue (certainly this reviewer would) that “Goetterdaemmerung” is the greatest opera ever written; with the two final acts among the most overwhelming any person will experience within the performing arts. Los Angeles Opera’s “Goetterdaemmerung”, with James Conlon leading the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra in Wagner’s great orchestral showpieces, the Los Angeles Opera Chorus as the Gibichung people, and Treleaven and Watson leading the cast, will not disappoint.

[Below: Siegfried (John Treleaven) whose body is now blue, signifying that he is under Hagen’s spell; edited image, based on a Monika Rittershaus photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

[For my review of the first performance of this production, see: Standing Ovations for Achim Freyer, James Conlon, Cast of “Goetterdaemmerung” – Los Angeles Opera, April 3, 2010.]

Die Walkuere (San Francisco Opera), June 10, 13(m), 19, 22, 25 and 30, 2010.

This is the second installment in San Francisco of Francesca Zambello’s often lively, sometimes sobering, but always interesting “American Ring”, previously performed by the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center in 2007. San Francisco mounts it with an entirely different cast.

Christopher Ventris and Eva-Maria Westbroek are the Waelsung twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde. Nine Stemme, returning to the San Francisco Opera stage after a half-decade’s absence, is Bruennhilde and Mark Delavan is Wotan. Raymond Aceto plays Hunding and Janina Baechle is Fricka. Donald Runnicles, who has performed more Wagner at the San Francisco Opera than any other conductor in its history, returns to the podium.

[Below: Bruennhilde (here, in front, Linda Watson) edited image, based on a Karin Cooper photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]

[For my review of a performance of this production at the Washington National Opera, see: Zambello’s Dazzling “American Ring ‘Walkuere’” at Kennedy Center – March 28, 2007.]

[For my performance reviews of this production at the San Francisco Opera, see: An American “Walkuere”: Runnicles, Wagner and Zambello At San Francisco Opera – June 10, 2010 and A Second Look: Stemme, Delavan, Lead Power Cast of San Francisco Opera “Walkuere” – June 13, 2010.]

Tristan und Isolde (Seattle Opera), July 31, August 4, 7, 12, 15(m), 18 and 21, 2010.

Peter Kazaras is stage director and Robert Israel is set and costume designer for a new production of “Tristan und Isolde”. Analena Persson is the Irish princess in her American opera debut, with Clifton Forbis (my review of whose performance of Tristan at Lyric Opera of Chicago is cited below) in his first Wagner role in Seattle.

The cast is rounded out with a group of favorite Seattle Wagnerians  – Margaret Jane Wray as Brangaene, Greer Grimsley as Kurwenal, Stephen Milling as King Marke and Jason Collins as Melot. Ascher Fisch conducts.

[Below: Isolde (Annalena Persson) and Tristan (Clifton Forbis) are together; edited image, based on a Rozarii Lynch photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

[For my review of Clifton Forbis’ Tristan and Greer Grimsley’s Kurwenal at Lyric Opera, see: Forbis, Voigt Brilliant as Lyric’s Tristan and Isolde – Chicago, February 24, 2009.]

[For my performance review, see: Tristan Tried and True: Clifton Forbis Sells Seattle Opera’s New “Tristan und Isolde” – July 31, 2010.]

For opera goers with the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks or so on the West Coast, consider the possibility of scheduling a Los Angeles Ring over a nine day period interspersed with trips to San Francisco for its summer season and to other California attractions.