Glowing hands and eyeballs, neon sabers, a giant overcoat that would suit a pimp and, oh yeah, the music of Richard Wagner have taken over the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. LA Opera's and Achim Freyer's adventurous staging of Das Rheingold (now playing through March 15), the first chapter of Wagner's famed Der Ring des Nibelungen, may upset purists but truly shouldn't be missed.
Freyer brings a decidedly avant-garde sensibility to the work. One may be tempted to term it futuristic, especially with the incorporation of Star Wars-esque weaponry, but the production can't be classified so easily.
The Ring saga kicks off here with the Nibelung (a race of dwarves) Alberich's theft of a stash of cursed gold from the Rhine River's protective maidens. Alberich (well played and sung by Gordon Hawkins, despite the challenges of an oversized mask and a raked stage) is quickly consumed by a lust for power and gifted with magical abilities courtesy of the Rhinegold.
This puts Alberich and the Nibelungen in opposition to Wotan, king of the gods, and his family. Wotan is having the final touches put on his dream palace, Valhalla, which has been constructed by giants who have been promised Wotan's beautiful sister-in-law, Freia, as payment. Of course, Fricka, Wotan's wife, isn't happy with this arrangement.
Wotan convinces the giants to accept a payment of Rhinegold instead. With the help of the conniving fire god, Loge, and the aforementioned pimp coat (complete with oversized fedora), Wotan sets out to steal the gold from Alberich and the Nibelungen.
Musically and vocally, LA Opera's Das Rheingold is assured and, even with the orchestra concealed by Freyer, a powerful testament to Wagner's classic composition. Vitalij Kowaljow sings the role of Wotan beautifully, with Arnold Bezuyen (as Loge), Michelle DeYoung (as Fricka) and Ellie Dehn (as Freia) also excellent.
But it is the visuals that make this production most noteworthy. Imaginative and often hallucinatory, Freyer's designs (with an assist by his daughter, Amanda) will likely remain in viewers' minds — and perhaps their dreams — long after his Ring cycle for Los Angeles closes in 2010.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.