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Culture Monster

Inspired by imperfect realities

September 06, 2009|Diane Haithman

Asking German stage director Achim Freyer whether he worries about criticism of his avant-garde style is like asking Julia Child whether she ever worried about using too much butter.

The director of Los Angeles Opera's production of Wagner's "Ring" cycle acknowledged before the premiere of "Das Rhinegold" in February that controversy seems to follow him, as it did when his 2002 staging of Bach's B-Minor Mass for L.A. Opera drew boos and a spate of angry letters to The Times; where there's smoke, there's Freyer.

"Not my problem!" the 75-year-old director said then.

Now getting ready for "Siegfried" -- the third in the four-opera cycle "The Ring of the Nibelung," opening Sept. 26 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion -- the director responded with similar nonchalance to questions about the decidedly mixed critical and audience reaction to the first two operas, "Das Rhinegold" and "Die Walkure," this year.

During a rehearsal break, Freyer said he loved hearing the audience response to his first "Ring" efforts: "I think when I have the end of the music and I have one moment of silence and then they spring up and cry -- beautiful!" he said with translating help from Christina Baitzel, special assistant to L.A. Opera General Director Placido Domingo for the "Ring."

Despite Freyer's sunny perception, cranky patrons wasted no time in voicing their opinion to The Times' Culture Monster blog -- appending 60 mostly negative comments to Mark Swed's review of "Das Rhinegold" and 44 more to his "Die Walkure" review.

Freyer even managed to raise hackles among the "Rhinegold" cast by telling The Times last spring that he wanted to direct a spoken-word "Ring" with no music -- using Wagner's libretto as the text.

"[They said] you do not love this production because you hate singers and music," he exclaims. "My big admiration for Wagner is that he has so many beautiful and intelligent words."

While Freyer has the rare capacity to ignore criticism, he remains highly critical of himself: His goal, he says, is perfect imperfection.

"I never see theater as being completely ready and perfect -- that is death, I think," he says. "I am a director who has schmutz -- dirty spots."

Freyer is also a painter. L.A.'s Ace Gallery plans a show of his work in April with the citywide Ring Festival L.A.

To that end, Freyer has rented a downtown studio loft and roams L.A. neighborhoods for inspiration -- predictably, the imperfect ones.

Back in Berlin, Freyer says, closed shops and stripped billboards are always quickly covered with plywood. "Here, it is all open," he says. "For me it is beautiful to see the rubble, and the layers. . . . That's very inspirational."

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diane.haithman@latimes.com

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