Classical KUSC Blog

June 4, 2010

LA Ring Blog – Installment #9

Filed under: Capparela's Blogarellium,LA Ring Blog — classicalkusc @ 11:59 am

Der Blog des Nibelungen

— by Rich Capparela (and Wagner friends and foes everywhere)

9. You Wanna Talk? It’s the Middle of the Night! — 6/4/2010

Thursday was the first of three Siegfrieds. That also meant that it was the first of my three Talk Back post-performance sessions. As was the case in the test run following the final standalone Twilight of the Gods back in April, this was a chance for audience members to vent: ask questions, complain, praise a particular singer, whatever. What was different about this session from the first was the clock. The applause following Siegfried ended at about 11:15 PM. That’s kinda late to start discussing one’s feelings, but that’s how it worked out. As the third act started wrapping up I began thinking “Who’s got any juice left in them for a Q &A? I’ll be happy if ten people show.”

Did anyone stop by? This is Wagner’s Ring, we’re talking about. What do you think?

As it turned out, I was off by a factor of ten or more. Well over a hundred people stood or sat for what turned out to be a full forty-five minute (!!) session, featuring the same wide-ranging set of opinions that characterized the first Talk Back. Even after the house crew gave me the “wrap it up, champ” signal from the back of the Grand Hall, people came up and wanted to continue the discussion. This Talk Back concept is brilliant therapy for the audience. It allows absolutely contradictory opinions to coexist peacefully. My job is to let the opposites connect and talk it through. Because this is an opera audience, no actual blood was shed. Instead, people expressed measured, thoughtful opinions. Ah, if only Congress could have this much class.

The first comment/question came from a woman who complained bitterly that Achim Freyer’s clownish costuming and physical distance between Siegfried and Brunnhilde resulted in a total lack of sexual energy between the two. The microphone then passed to a gentleman who countered that the costumes, the Styrofoam muscle shirt for Siegfried and the dramatic color change in Siegfried’s wardrobe after meeting Brunnhilde made for the sexiest Act III he’d ever seen. It was like that.

As the session went on, and midnight approached, people started peeling off, but there were still a couple of dozen hearty Wagnerians there when I had to say “Good night. Drive safely. See you again at the end of the world.”

I’ll be doing my next cheap Oprah imitation at the conclusion of the next Siegfried, on Sunday, June 13. (“Look under your seat. YOU get a tarnhelm and YOU get a tarnhelm and YOU get a tarnhelm…”).

A word about the orchestra last night. The brass section especially acquitted itself admirably. And if there’s one particular Ring opera where you want the brass to be reliable, it’s Siegfried. I do wish that the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion were not so dry an acoustic space. Still, that steeply raked stage does wonders for the vocalists’ ability to project to the back row. The result is a Ring where the balance between orchestra and singers is doggone close to perfect. How often does that happen?

Finally, in the department of celebrity spotting: in addition to the usual Hollywood contingent last night (Tarantino, anyone? Buck Henry?), there was a great moment when my wife and I were having an out-of-doors pre-performance salad and brat wurst dinner near the Mark Taper Forum. A few tables away, all by himself, no fawning entourage in sight, dining on fast food and taking in the scene, sat director Achim Freyer himself. I was courteous enough to refrain from interrupting his meal with an inane “Hiya. How’s it goin’?” but not discrete enough to resist snapping his photograph on my iPhone.

– Rich Capparela


  1. THANK YOU for the opportunity to discuss! Especially since I’m going to the cycle alone and I don’t have too many friends in LA that care about The Ring. I didn’t ask a question because most of my questions and thoughts were already addressed, except for sharing this – Sunday night a fellow opera-goer referred to the people in black as “the creepers.” Ha!

    Too bad I didn’t see Achim Freyer sitting all alone, I would have sat down, because I sure couldn’t find an empty seat!

    Comment by Katherine — June 4, 2010 @ 6:44 pm | Reply

  2. I enjoyed this discussion after Siegfried. I’m the guy who defended the sexiness of the love duet. I also don’t have many friends who are interested in the Ring, so Sunday night after Gotterdammerung I sent the following email to a bunch of my friends:

    Dear Friends, I just got home from seeing Gotterdammerung, the final of the four operas of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The whole thing was such an intense, unique, and enlightening experience that I just wanted to share a little with my friends, even though most of you probably couldn’t care less and would as soon go to a Wagner opera as spend the evening driving back and forth on the 405 freeway.

    Anyway, I saw Rheingold last Saturday, Walkure on Sunday, Siegfried on Thursday (where I ran into Asher Rosen) and Gotterdammerung today (where I ran into Parke Skelton).

    First, about the production: it is by the German artist Achim Freyer, and let me say that it is spectacular. Whatever you may have heard, this is a great production. Freyer worked with Brecht earlier in his career and it shows. The production is a blend of mythic, grotesque, modern (light sabers etc), and comedic (just like Wagner, surprise).

    Next, a few comments about the Ring itself. I agree with George Bernard Shaw that the Ring is basically an anti-capitalist rant. I would add that it has a big dose of feminism added in. Remember that the initiating event of the Ring is the theft of the gold from the river Rhine. This theft carries a curse that ultimately leads to the destruction of the gods and mankind. Alberich the dwarf steals the gold at the beginning of Rheingold. He renounces love as part of the deal. He then enslaves all the other dwarves to work in an underground sweatshop so he can rule the world.

    Then Wotan, the king of the gods, tricks Alberich out of the gold (finance capital swallowing industrial capital) so he can build the gods’ palace Valhalla to ensure his continued domination. But his plans are built on deceit and violation of his own rules, so his efforts at world domination also come to naught. His grandson Siegfried, who is supposed to be the world hero and who slays the dragon to get the gold, falls in love with Brunnhilde, Wotan’s disobedient daughter, but then gets tricked and manipulated by some petty aristocrats led by Alberich’s son Hagen, of all people.

    Anyway, the theft of nature (like the oil in the gulf) can only lead to corruption and failure, and it is left to Brunnhilde, the only really admirable character in the whole 17 hours, to redeem everyone with her self-sacrifice at the end (the famous Immolation scene, beloved and dreaded by sopranos).

    So, to recap: The Ring is a parable of capitalism as a system that exploits people and violates nature, and the big girl redeems humanity through her wisdom and generosity of spirit. Not bad for a crazy revolutionary (1848) anti-semite (later) like Wagner, eh?

    There are two more cycles coming up; the next one starts on Tuesday. You could still catch it. If you can only see one opera, I recommend Walkure. Hot incest and a rebellious daughter—what more could you ask for?

    Time to get some sleep, like Erda who sleeps all the time.

    Comment by Jeff Horton — June 7, 2010 @ 10:43 am | Reply

  3. I second that. I went to most of the cycle alone too, and one comes out of there filled with questions and comments so it was great to have that outlet!

    I thought, and when I was in line for sausages during “Die Walkure” heard others echo, that this production seems to have a strongly meditative quality, and it’s interesting how the “creepers” help to mark time when nothing appears to be happening. Their slow walk echoes the rhythm of the body as you listen and reflect on the situation while passing through the negative space of some of the slower-paced scenes. It really made me curious about how similar passages are handled in a less abstract production.

    This was my first Ring and I look forward to more. Coming through an event like this with KUSC (with the blog and on-air) by my side strengthens my life-long (though in-and-out) bond with the station, too. Thank you for all of that; it really enhanced my enjoyment of this past week!

    Comment by Jennifer Trotoux — June 7, 2010 @ 11:13 am | Reply

  4. Good points about the “creepers.” When I read that I realized that when I noticed them I did have the feeling of time passing while these great events were transpiring.

    I would like to ask if anyone figured out the timing and significance of the 5 or so circus like figures that would suddenly appear maybe once in each opera and walk slowly around the stage and then disappear. There were only 3 of them in Gotterdammerung. Does anyone remember exactly when they appeared in each opera?

    Comment by Jeff Horton — June 7, 2010 @ 4:18 pm | Reply

  5. Rich – it’s “discreet.” “Discrete” is the antonym of “continuous.”

    I have some Ring comments I’d love to make at this point, but will have to forgo them for now in fiavor of higher-priority tasks. Let’s just say that my opera-loving sister and her neophyte friend greatly enjoyed the last 3, using my tickets, spread out over the last two seasons.

    Why is KUSC moving? I was at the reception at your then-new studios a few years ago and was very impressed at their state-of-the-art quality. Did I miss reading a newsletter or two?

    Cheers –

    Comment by Herb Royden — June 8, 2010 @ 2:45 am | Reply

  6. Hi Folks. Rich C. here checking in with a few responses to your comments:

    As far as I know, the parade of circus characters that appears whenever the topic of discussion is Alberich’s curse are aspects of the Twilight of the Gods: The harlot is Grimhild (who bears Alberich the child Hagen)…the clown king pushing a ring is the cuckolded king Gibich (?) who, unknowingly pushes the ring’s curse forward (maybe) …the child with the removable head disappears in Twilight because that child is now incarnate in Hagen…Grimhild the harlot also vanishes from the parade but is now the kneeling figure at the base of the podium/platform on which Hagen sits. The garden gnome could represent the entire Nibelungen race that will rise up and overthrow the gods. The red hat-wearing dalmatian on stilts is, um, er, Achim’s favorite kind of dog? The hat is the tarnhelm being used only for evil?

    Who knows? Those are just (a few) of my guesses. Your interpretation is just as valid, no matter what it is, right?

    And in response to Herb’s tip on the word “Discrete,” all I can say is that hey, I missed one. Sorry. But after all, “It’s a moot point, irregardless and totally unique.”

    Comment by Rich Capparela — June 8, 2010 @ 9:45 am | Reply

  7. Touché. (Did that accent mark make it through the servers? We’ll soon know.}

    KUSC’s moving, irregardless of it’s studio’s state-of-the-artiness, must be considered a totally unique event, so I guess the answer to my question would be a moot point. Unless their foreclosing becuz you didn’t make enuf muney on yur pledje drives.

    Too much? Too much. Great blog.

    Cheers –

    Comment by Herb Royden — June 9, 2010 @ 3:25 am | Reply

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