Opera Review: ‘Siegfried’ continues fantastical journey

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An opera can rival Hollywood for special effects when it is in the hands of director-designer Achim Freyer. His production of “Siegfried,” the third part of Richard Wagner’s exploration of the “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” was anything but traditional with its unconventional staging, far-out costumes and surprises lurking in every corner of what was supposed to be a forest. Performed at the Music Center, it was a triumph for Los Angeles Opera.

Because “Siegfried” stretches over five hours, thanks to Wagner’s verbosity, it was actually a joy to accept the unorthodox presentation. Although similar in many ways to the two previous productions of “The Ring,” this had new and exciting elements to keep one from drifting off. With dwarfs, dragons and gods, the opera needs all the visual help it can get.

This, the penultimate opera in the cycle, continues the story told in “Das Rheingold” and “Die Walkure.” A gold ring created by the dwarf Mime gives the owner the power to rule over the world. Siegfried is able to secure the stolen ring from Fafner, the giant, by killing him with a magic sword. Brunnhilde ultimately restores the ring to its source in the final work, the upcoming “Gotterdammerung.”

The role of “Siegfried,” one of the most difficult in the tenor repertoire, was in the hands of John Treleaven who has a rich, sweet voice not quite in the realm of the true heldentenor. However, as the young hero, he was brash, boastful and rather believable in this mythic tale.

On stage most of the time, Trelealven had the backing of a formidable cast, starting with basso Vitalij Kowaljow as Wotan or The Wanderer. Wearing the same remarkable costume he has worn in the two previous operas, he was a commanding presence. The other singers were all so excellent, it is difficult to single out a favorite. Graham Clark had the difficult role of the dwarf Mime and was just wonderful. So was his “brother,” Oleg Bryjak as Alberich. The well-known soprano Linda Watson was a magnificent Brunnhilde.

Eric Halfvarson was a sympathetic Fafner, giant-turned-dragon, and Jill Grove was Erda the Earth Mother. The woodbird was sung by Stacey Tappan who has a beautiful coloratura voice perfectly suited for tweeting, bird style.

The costumes by Freyer and his daughter Amanda are wonderfully inventive, but they have done a disservice to Siegfried. He wears “trousers” made of bear skin with claws as a belt, and a fitted purple muscle torso to make him look like early Schwarzenegger. With a white face and blond curls sprouting from his head, he is more clown than hero.

The orchestra was splendid under the baton of James Conlon, playing the lush Wagner music with passion, but never undermining the singers.

A minor quibble is that Freyer likes to have his all-in-black assistants constantly walking across the stage in slow motion. Enough already. There are many elements that just can’t be explained or even justified, but the fanciful approach helps rather than hinders a monumental work.