John Treleaven as Siegfried

The 'Ring,' three-quarters rounded, one segment flattened


We left the future Siegfried, an embryo within his newly widowed (and, understandably, hysterical) mother. Some 14 hours later, as measured in operatic time, the exuberant, taffy-haired future hero 行 "a veritable L'il Abner" in the immortal words of Anna Russell 行 zooms through the opera of his name, part three of Richard Wagner's four-part wallow into sex, myth, history and double-dealing currently taking shape at the Music Center.

That project has now passed the three-quarter milepost. Skeptics who greeted its preliminary stages, including its tremblingly announced $32-million bankroll, with dire prophecies worthy of the Earth Goddess Erda herself, may now be seen grouping in honorable retreat.

The triumph redounds to the visions of Achim Freyer, who has extracted from these scores a vast and multiphased symphonic fantasy of shape and color made audible. It redounds no less to the generations of anti-musical esthetes 行 "Wagner's music is not as bad as it sounds," wrote Mark Twain 行 who have observed their cynicism beaten back by the dauntless outpourings from James Conlon's brainy leadership of his astonishingly good Opera Orchestra and, for the most part, the assembled vocal forces surrounding it.

"For the most part," I was saying. Given the built-in hazards that Herr Wagner has imposed upon any singer brave enough to take on what has to figure among the most daunting of vocal assignments. Given the law of averages, therefore, it stands to reason that the scent of inadequacy might infuse any major Wagnerian effort, especially from a company still as wet-behind-the-ears as our hardy troupe. And such is the case.

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What we have here is a Siegfried without a Siegfried, with John Treleaven an attractive chap, red hair all aglow, but with no color in the vocal delivery where it is most needed. Linda Watson's Brünnhilde is similarly encumbered; from her "Heil dir, Sonne!" the so-called "love duet" simply churns onward, two uninteresting stage folk uninvolved in much of an artistic purpose. Even Fafner the Dragon, whose appearance is the moment most eagerly awaited in all Siegfried productions, is reduced here to Eric Halvarson, booming out impressively through the PA system but represented to our eyes as an old codger in a bathrobe.

Too bad: A great musical drama, seldom heard in this region and never with so much personality in its stage presence, crash-lands from the inadequate manning of its crucial mechanism. There are moments in Siegfried that I have always regarded as dreary, above all the "20 Questions" scene between Wotan and Mime. Now I've heard its true beauty, wreathed in wind and brass tone from James Conlon's great L.A. Opera Orchestra, and with the singing of Vitalij Kowaljow's Wotan 行 a solid, nicely schooled baritone 行 and Graham Clark's antic and delightful dwarf Mime (pronounced "mee-meh" if you care), with its amusing mix of the solemn and the frivolous. (Clark is also the Mime on the Daniel Barenboim-conducted DVD Ring on Warner Classics, my choice for the most visually revealing of all the video Rings.)

Go anyway; how long has it been since your last Siegfried? Or, for that matter, an evening of anything in a theater produced as the complete emanation of a sublime artistic intelligence staged with skill, with masterly control, with the power to honor one of the world's traditional treasures and convince an audience (cheering, more often than not) that the artistic impulse is the force that can win hearts...and conquer time? This new Siegfried, in other words, wrapped in the genius of Achim Freyer, is one helluva show.

Through October 17

Photo: Monika Rittershaus

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