Los Angeles, September 11. To the small but ardent hordes of compleat Wagnerites hereabouts, denied sustenance over the years – a mere two productions in 14 seasons – by the Los Angeles Opera’s favoring glances toward other repertories, this past few days’ activities have come as a mingling of manna from heaven and redemption here on earth. First there was Sunday night’s all-Wagner concert under the company’s banner, with supertenor, superconductor, super-orchestra and super music: complete acts from “Die Walküre” and “Parsifal” with Plácido Domingo as the Siegmund and the Parsifal, excellent supporting casts and master conductor Valery Gergiev drawing torrential and glorious noises from his Kirov Orchestra visiting from its St. Petersburg home base. At next morning’s press conference, it turned out that the concert was only a teaser for what’s to come: the company’s first “Lohengrin” slated for September, 2001 and, more wondrous yet, a brand new “Ring of the Nibelung” cycle, with designs from George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, birthplace of “Star Wars” and, thus, the logical inheritor of Wagner’s grandiose visions of 135 years ago.
For Domingo, the company’s newly anointed director, the concert capped a week of empire building: his sensationally successful “Operalia” vocal competition, his excellent leadership of the opening-night “Aïda” and now, all the Wagner. Actually, Domingo has been systematically moving into Wagner territory for several years, while maintaining his ability to knock ‘em dead in the Italian repertory. This past summer his Siegmund at Bayreuth was greatly admired, and in Los Angeles these days – the concert repeats on the 13th and 15th – he demonstrates why. Never mind that his German diction is vividly colored by Mediterranean vowel-values; he proved this time that he still has the role’s tragedy-tinged ardor well in hand, and in voice as well.
The circumstances were irresistible: the pure, dark-hued velvet of the magnificent Kirov players, the surging insistence of Gergiev leadership. The silvery-voiced Danish soprano Eva Johansson was the passionate Sieglinde in the “Walküre” love music; American soprano Linda Watson was a fearsome Kundry in the “Parsifal” garden scene – where the ring of Domingo’s tenor, however, was occasionally buried by the Kirov’s volcanic brasses. The smaller bass roles were well managed by Fyodor Kuznetsov, the Hunding in “Die Walküre” and Alan Held, the Klingsor in the “Parsifal.”
Adding to his strongholds in St. Petersburg and at the Met, Gergiev has been setting down new roots in Los Angeles as well. He will conduct next season’s opening-night “Pique Dame,” and the 2003/04 season’s “Love for Three Oranges,” both co-productions by the L.A. and Kirov Operas. The “Lohengrin” will be staged by actor/director Maximilian Schell, led by the company’s newly anointed principal conductor, Kent Nagano. Other productions for next season, announced at Monday’s press conference, include a “Merry Widow” presented both in English and Spanish (with Domingo as the Spanish-language Danilo), a Nagano-conducted concert performance of Schoenberg’s “Moses und Aron,” a staging by German director/designer Achim Freyer of Bach’s B-minor Mass, the company’s first “Turandot,” also conducted by Nagano, and a double-bill of Bartók’s “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle” and Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi,” also conducted by Nagano and staged by Hollywood filmmaker William Friedkin. Revivals of the company’s “La Traviata” and “The Magic Flute” round out the season, the first to show the planning hand of Domingo himself, an impressive start.