Siegfried – Met HD Encore Broadcast

In case you haven’t already read it, there’s a new piece of news about the Lepage Ring on Parterre.  Apparently, Monsieur Lepage will be re-staging parts of the Ring Cycle for the 2012-2013 season.  Probably a good move.  If only Gelb and Lepage could have responded to criticism of the new Ring Cycle with a level explanation that live theatre is always a work in progress and one of the benefits and exciting features of repertory theatre is that directors have the opportunity to improve their work for subsequent performances; that they understand our concerns and hope that we consider attending future performances to see how the piece evolves to more fully realize Lepage’s vision.

This is also a good argument for why a week or two of previews might not be a bad thing for high-stakes opera productions like this.  Just a thought.

I must say, I feel a little bit better about this production after seeing Siegfried.

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Die Walküre – Met HD Encore Broadcast

In “Wagner’s Dream” (and please do read those as air-quotes), Lepage said that in preparation he went back to the source of the Ring mythology; that is to say, he went to Iceland.  He did see an old manuscript of the Icelandic Eddas – they flash a picture or two from the Prose Edda, blah blah blah.  I’m really not sure why they bothered when the Eddas are a mere fraction of Wagner’s source material for the Ring, and frankly a concept based around the Icelandic landscape is pretty interesting in it’s own right.  From Teutonic to tectonic!  Oh ho ho!  (I’m sorry, it had to be done…)  Too bad he couldn’t have taken that idea further – beyond the plank set and traditional Icelandic action-figure costuming.

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Das Rheingold – Met HD Encore Broadcast

I’ve never actually sat down and done the Ring Cycle properly.  I’ve listened to all of them, I’ve seen at least parts of all of them and all of some of them, I’m familiar with various productions, and I know what happens; but I’ve never made a concentrated effort to sit down and watch them all in succession.  The first time I tried it was immediately after getting my wisdom teeth removed, and the lingering anesthesia and 600mg of ibuprofen and percocet I’d been prescribed made me pass out before Alberich could run off with the Rheingold.

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“Wagner’s Dream”

The stakes could not be higher as one of the theater’s finest stage directors teams up with one of the world’s leading opera companies to tackle opera’s most monumental challenge: a new production of Wagner’s Ring cycle-the four-part, 16-hour work that the composer first presented in 1876. Wagner’s Dream takes you deep into the artistic and musical challenges of the epic work. Visionary director Robert Lepage begins a five-year journey to create the most ambitious staging in Metropolitan Opera history, featuring a 90,000-pound set (“The Machine”) designed to realize all of Wagner’s scenic instructions. The film follows heroic singers from rehearsals to performance as they take on many of the most daunting roles in opera. An intimate look at the challenges of live theater and the risks that must be taken, the documentary chronicles the tremendous creativity and unflagging determination behind this daring attempt to realize Wagner’s dream of a perfect Ring.

That is how the publicity materials for Wagner’s Dream summarize the film.  It opens with the pretense that opera companies and directors have been engaged in a quest to produce the “perfect” Ring Cycle since the work was composed.  Apparently this is the ultimate goal of any new production: to create the perfect, definitive Ring – the Ring Cycle to end all Ring Cycles.

Oooookay…

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Not dead yet!

Today, Lucy of Opera Obsession wisely suggested that, rather than punching the world over the first paragraph of this article, I should post a rant in my blog.  Genius!  I don’t think this will be a long rant (since I’m still grappling with the “good god, just write something” demons), but hopefully it will be thoughtful.

Before I begin,  would like to say that my rant has nothing to do with the end of the Met Futures blog.  I think it’s incredibly silly of the Met to put an end to this blog.  The best excuse the Met put forth is that it sometimes affects negotiations with singers, which seems pretty unreasonable on the singers’ part(s)…  That’s another blog post.  (Personally, I am of the opinion that the Met shouldn’t bother hiring singers who can’t handle rumors in the entertainment industry, but I am also of the opinion that no performer is so special as to be irreplaceable.)  Moving on!

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City, city!

(That title is a reference to The Rake’s Progress, for those of you who don’t have the Stravinsky opera running through your head 24/7.)

You may have noticed that the New York City Opera has been in the news a lot, recently.  I’ll assume we don’t need to talk about the General Director drama of years-gone-by (though I think it is definitely related to the current problems).  Here is a chronological sampling of what has been going down as reported by the NY Times:

I do think it is a shame that the City Opera is in dire straights, but I completely agree with Tommasini that moving out of the Lincoln Center is a good move on the City Opera’s part.  Or… it would be a good move if Steel would treat the move as an interesting artistic challenge rather than a kind of poverty.  I respect Catherine Malfitano and her petition of stars and acknowledge their authority regarding the identity of the City Opera, but surely they can see that the City Opera needs to find a new identity?

The New York City Opera – the “people’s opera” – has been about new singers, new works, and newcomers to opera.  What does that mean today?  Many opera companies have “Young Artist” programs these days, producing more young artists than can be employed; and while many important artists began their careers at the City Opera – a 25-year-old Placido Domingo being a favorite example, can you imagine any singer nowadays making a significant premiere at age 25?  It seems like every opera company has a children’s outreach program as well.  I’m sure many cannot compete with the caliber of the City Opera programs, but we can’t all raise our children in New York City (and, as far as I’m concerned, there is way too much focus on reaching out to children when they should be focusing on teenagers and 20-somethings).  A newcomer to opera is probably better off going to a broadcast (or watching a free streaming opera online!), which are available all over the world and provide excellent views and behind-the-scenes information for the cost of a standing-room ticket.  (They may not be getting the full aural experience, but newcomers are generally not that discriminating.  I certainly wasn’t.)  New works always have a place, but finding a really good new opera these days is like finding a needle in a haystack.  And all the world premieres (I would even take US premieres) seem to be happening in other companies.

The petition and the Rudel piece point to a significant contingent of people who continue to hold on to what the City Opera was decades ago when the space was new,  when the Met had a distinctly patrician air, and when opera was more of a cultural force in America than it is today.  The response to the Rudel op-ed represents the worst of this kind of sentimentality and old-guard conservatism that continues to poison opera.  (Okay, I’m being dramatic, but the argument that we should listen to Rudel’s advice regarding arts administration because of his baton technique and the accolades of a Frenchman infuriates me.  He has more relevant credentials, for chrissake!)  Change is hard, but it is time to move on.

I think it’s time for the City Opera to stop being the “people’s opera” and start being the city’s opera.  Instead of hopping from small theatre to small theatre, develop some productions in unconventional spaces!  Site-specific opera!  Please direct your attention to the Birmingham Opera Company in England.  This.  This is the kind of stuff I wish the City Opera would do.  There are so many unique spaces in New York!  Experiment with the music and chamber arrangements!  As much as I hate to admit it (because I’m a professional opera malcontent), opera has come along way since the 60s, and it’s time to explore new frontiers.  Opera itself is changing.

Unfortunately, I’m not convinced Steel is prepared to take that kind of risk, and what the City Opera needs is a leap of faith.