As of February 21, the Los Angeles Opera is off and running with Wagner's epic "Ring des Nibelungen." A new "Ring" is always big news, but this one is bigger news than most. For one thing, it is the first "Ring" in the city's history. More important, Wagner's vision is refracted through the prism of the visionary German painter and theater artist Achim Freyer, who marries psychedelic, often wildly comic imagery to philosophy of oceanic depth. "Das Rheingold," the first installment, continues through March 15. "Die Walküre," the second installment, will be on view April 4 to 25. The concluding installments ("Siegfried" and "Götterdämmerung") are due next season, with three complete cycles to follow. (Photo galleries on www.laopera.com convey the flavor.)
Photo By: Monika Rittershaus
"The term 'dream' is surely mistaken," Freyer demurred, not quarreling but calmly defining his terms, and in an instant, the conversation was on another plane. It might have been an audience with an oracle, who for a change was not talking in riddles but elucidating mysteries one by one. He touched on the creation of the elements, the emergence of the gods, the origins of power, the prehistory of the human race, and the unconscious perception of conditions that belong neither to reality nor to the world of dreams. The figures of the drama bear human traits, yet they are not human. They are unseen forces, operating at an infinite remove. As in the dreamtime of Australian aborigines? "Perhaps so," Freyer answered. "Many paths lead to the center." Pictures can point the way.
To many interpreters, the "Ring" is a commentary on historical, psychological, or political realities. To Freyer, that notion is absurd. Taking Wagner at his word every step of the way, he sees in each stage in the epic a different aspect of Being, governed by a different aspect of Time. The incestuous twins Siegmund and Sieglinde in "Die Walküre," where time is circular, are like the two halves of the severed beings described in Plato's great "Symposium." United, they unleash energies that threaten the gods. Siegfried, the child of their union, is the first human being, governed by linear Time, no longer an immortal. By "Götterdämmerung," the final stage of the epic, time has come to a standstill. Knowledge is instantaneous, universal, and thus useless. This describes the time we are living in.
I paraphrase by necessity. The line was noisy, recording was not an option, and my transcription, in Freyer's German, is alas full of holes. And he had so much more to say: of the vain quest for a child's naïveté; of the place of humor in tragedy and of grief in comedy; of the structural differences between drama and opera; of Wagner's illusions, Brecht's demystifications, and the secret affinities between them.
Yet perhaps these notes convey a glimmer of the majesty that informs Freyer's sometimes raucous, always mesmerizing stage pictures. Next season, his "Ring" will be the centerpiece of a citywide festival involving some two dozen cultural institutions including museums and universities. Pilgrims and scholars will congregate from far and wide, some will love what he has wrought, and some will hate it. But who will have gazed more deeply into Wagner's mirror?