L.A.'s ‘Ring’ cycle begins with protests outside, mixed reaction inside
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While Los Angeles Opera’s production of Richard Wagner’s epic “The Ring of the Nibelung” was the main event at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Saturday night, two dozen protesters outside did their best to upstage opening night.
A well-dressed crowd gathered for the start of the company’s first full production of the 19-hour cycle, which began with a performance of “Das Rheingold,” the opening chapter of the Wagner’s magnum opus.
They were greeted by about 25 protesters who stood outside on the Music Center Plaza with banners that denounced Wagner and the county’s decision late last year to approve an emergency loan for the financially stretched opera company.
One banner read: “Wagner: Loved by Nazis, Rejected by Humans.” Another said: “L.A. County: $14 Million to promote Nazi Wagner, Layoffs for Music Teachers.”
The protesters identified themselves as supporters for Lyndon LaRouche, the eccentric political activist and frequent presidential candidate. The group handed out fliers published by the Schiller Institute, an organization founded by LaRouche’s wife, Helga.
The fliers denounced Wagner’s anti-Semitic personal views and criticized the county for rescuing the opera company. “Does Los Angeles County have nothing better to do … than bail out L.A. Opera, so that it can celebrate the monstrous sexual fantasies, and the cult of violence, of that vile anti-Semite, Wagner?” read the flier.
Stephen Rountree, who serves as chief operating officer of L.A. Opera and president of the Music Center, said in a statement that “dialogue is good and we welcome all conversations” in connection to the “Ring.”
In December, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved a $14-million loan to the opera company, which at the time said it was $20 million in debt. The loan is intended to help keep L.A. Opera afloat through mid-2010.
On Saturday, the protesters unfurled their banners in front of the Music Center fountain, facing the Pavilion. But security guards forced them to leave the grounds, saying that they did not have permission to be there. The group later positioned itself at the foot of the steps leading to the Music Center from Grand Avenue.
“Don’t catch ‘Ring’-worm tonight,” said one protester to arriving audiences. The group also performed a cappela versions of the “Ode to Joy” passage from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s “Nabucco.”
Audiences expressed mixed reactions to the protesters. “Ridiculous!” shouted one passerby. “It’s great music despite his beliefs,” said another.
Brittany Gash of Inglewood was attending “South Pacific” at the Ahmanson Theater but stopped to survey the action. “I think the ‘Ring’ Festival is a sham,” she said. “I consider myself a music lover, but I don’t think Angelenos can relate to this production. It’s not an accessible piece for the public.”
Sara Joslin, who teaches dance in the L.A. Unified School District, said she doesn’t support the protesters but added that “I’m supportive of music teachers who are being unfairly laid off.”
Inside the Pavilion, the big unveiling of the “Ring” appeared to go smoothly, with audiences giving “Das Rheingold” a standing ovation. There was no audible booing for experimental director Achim Freyer, who had received boos during the stand-alone performances of the “Ring” operas this season and last season.
After the performance, audiences appeared to have diverse reactions to the production.
Marisha Morris of L.A. left the performance early. “I thought with all the money and time put into it that there would be more to see on stage,” she said. “I thought the singing was good, but I was expecting more theatrics.”
Another attendee, who declined to be named, said the staging was “an incoherent mess” and that whoever designed it “had to be high.” The attendee added, “I can accept abstractness, but only if there’s intelligence behind it.’
Richard Hammer of San Francisco said this was his 17th “Ring” production. “It’s very imaginative and spectacular,” he said. “It doesn’t always work, but I would rather see lasers and special effects than people carrying spears and wearing horned helmets.”
-- David Ng, with additional reporting by Charles McNulty