Gustavo Dudamel’s not ready for prime time Rheingold celebrates Frank Gehry at Disney Hall

United StatesUnited States Wagner, Das Rheingold: Soloists, Los Angeles Philharmonic / Gustavo Dudamel (conductor). Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, 1.11.2024. (LV)

Simon O’Neill (Loge) and Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Alberich) © Timothy Norris

Gustavo Dudamel’s first ‘fully staged’ Das Rheingold was sleek and, at times, stunningly beautiful, but it never had much dramatic weight or substance, and it lacked little of the terrible premonition of what was to take place in the subsequent operas. It felt more like an out-of-town tryout.

The orchestra played with razor-sharp virtuosity and stunning clarity in music that demands neither, although, when the low strings got it together, they created a semblance of the drama’s awesome dark force. Even outstanding playing from the brass, including one real Wagner tuba and four regular tubas, never attempted, let alone achieved, anything like the dark sound that creates the foreboding which permeates the opera. The giants’ footsteps, for example, were loud but not heavy.

The opening prelude was a set piece rather than surging into the appearance of the Rhinemaidens, the brass intertwining with each other more sensuously than the Rhinemaidens to come. The whole orchestra lost momentum briefly before picking up again when the water-nymphs, looking like refugees from a Bette Davis movie about the antebellum South, flounced onto the scene.

Ryan Speedo Green (Wotan) and Raehann Bryce-Davis (Fricka) © Timothy Norris

Advertised as fully staged, the singers (most of them barefoot) were costumed like fugitives from a drag queen’s ball and led by Ryan Speedo Green’s stentorian Wotan in Klingon duds. Aside from striding across the makeshift stage in front of the organ loft or on the makeshift walkway in front of the orchestra or climbing to get to the different levels of Frank Gehry’s set (constructed from what could have been apartment building blocks), it might as well have been a concert production.

The theater itself became the stage, which was a nice idea, but the Tarnhelm bit was pretty cheesy, with only a projected snake for the dragon and Mime’s anvils in one of the balconies clattering away like pots and pans. Jochen Schmeckenbecher’s Alberich, who began in almost total darkness, made a very snappy and superbly sung theatrical dwarf, and Simon O’Neill’s Loge, as the role often does, threatened at several times to steal the show. Otherwise, the most successful singers were the two giants, particularly Morris Robinson’s hugely human Fasolt and Tamara Mumford’s wonderfully luminous Erda. Raehann Bryce-Davis’s Fricka, on the other hand, was charged with occasional shrieks of Italian verismo.

The key dramatic points that underachieved included Alberich’s cursing of the ring which was neither bleakly desolate nor terrible enough to dominate the huge expanse of time and sound of not only Rheingold but the three subsequent operas of the Ring. And there was none of the great sweep of slowly mounting tension that resolves itself in the last chords of the ‘Entry of the Gods into Valhalla’.

Nor was it a user-friendly production. There were only two subtitle panels in the entire hall, hung high in front of the loft and thrown out of focus by two vertical scrims. With the audience that faced the orchestra looking up and down, and those on the sides craning their necks, it might have been billed as an opera for chiropractors. There could have been slight compensation for spectators on the side positioned behind the plane of the stage in being able to watch Dudamel conduct, but he mostly kept his nose in the score and his focus on the orchestra, occasionally looking up to mouth cues to the singers. And the translation itself, perhaps trying to be more accessible, still came up with strained terms like ‘ruddy gold’.

To end it all, Donner’s hammer summoning the thunderstorm seemed to slightly misfire, with just a brief spark somewhere in the upper reaches of the hall.

Laurence Vittes

Featured Image: Wagner’s Das Rheingold at the Walt Disney Concert Hall © Timothy Norris

Director – Alberto Arvelo
Set – Frank Gehry
Costumes – Cindy Figueroa
Dramaturg – Cori Ellison
Lighting – Rodrigo Prieto
Video art concept & script – Jorge Chacin
Video art producer – Gabriela Camejo
VFX artist, editor – Nascuy Linares

Wotan – Ryan Speedo Green
Donner – Kyle Albertson
Loge – Simon O’Neill
Froh – John Matthew Myers
Fricka – Raehann Bryce-Davis
Freia – Jessica Faselt
Erda – Tamara Mumford
Alberich – Jochen Schmeckenbecher
Mime – Barry Banks
Fasolt – Morris Robinson
Fafner – Peixin Chen
Woglinde – Ann Toomey
Wellgunde – Alexandria Shiner
Flosshilde – Taylor Raven

Leave a Comment