Perfect Wagnerites troubled by the short shrift accorded their composer of choice by the Los Angeles Opera — a scant two productions in 14 years up until now — will be set abuzz by prospects of better times to come. Future projects include the company’s first “Lohengrin,” slated for September 2001, and a complete “Ring of the Nibelung” cycle further down the road. This week’s knockout Wagner program — supertenor, superconductor, superorchestra in some super music — which began a three-night run on Sunday, was only a teaser, but it set a performance standard that any established Wagnerian ensemble might well envy.
For Placido Domingo, the company’s newly anointed artistic director, the concert capped a week of empire building: His sensationally successful “Operalia” vocal competition concluded on Tuesday, the splendid Domingo-conducted “Aida” opened the next night, and next up is Wagner. Slowly and systematically, Domingo has been moving into Wagner territory for several years, without abandoning the Italian repertory that, at 60, he still rules. This past summer, his Siegmund at the Bayreuth Festival, the Wagnerian holy of holies, won extravagant praise. Never mind that his German diction is somewhat colored by his Mediterranean vowel values; with his performance of Siegmund before a cheering full house in Los Angeles this past weekend, he had the role’s tragedy-tinged youthful ardor well in hand — and in voice.
The circumstances were irresistible. Russia’s (and now, apparently, the world’s) master conductor Valery Gergiev came over with his Kirov Orchestra from St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater to surround Domingo’s Wagner with rich, dark-toned musical velvet. Perhaps the velvet was piled a little high in the program’s second offering, when Domingo’s Parsifal didn’t ring out quite as bravely as had his Siegmund, but the fault might well be Wagner’s, whose scoring for his final music drama tends toward the churchly.
It was not, for that matter, Domingo’s night alone. Silvery-voiced Danish soprano Eva Johansson was the appealing Sieglinde in the “Walkuere” segment, and San Francisco-born Linda Watson was a fearsome Kundry in the “Parsifal,” with a sextet of young Russian singers on hand as the Flower Maidens, backed by a contingent of 16 L.A. Opera choristers. In the smaller bass roles, Fyodor Kuznetsov was the resonant Hunding, Alan Held a snarling, menacing Klingsor.
And over it all, as a driving force in front of his magnificent orchestra, marvelously responsive to the surge of Wagner’s incredible music, was the incomparable Gergiev, expanding his own operatic empire beyond its firm bases in St. Petersburg and New York to tantalize Wagner-deprived Los Angeles with the sounds and the visions of better times to come.