The Met HD Ring Cycle has come and gone, and what a lackluster finale.
The peripheral characters were all quite good – Hans-Peter König was a smooth and insidious Hagen (and as the only performer who appears in all four operas, it was fascinating to watch him through the cycle). Iain Paterson’s Gunther was very natural and human. Wendy Bryn Harmer’s Gutrune started out pretty interesting – ambitious and a little sly, but that characterization was never resolved within the actions of the opera, which is a shame. I don’t think it would have been difficult to round out that take on the character. I wish Eric Owens’s Alberich had been a little more warped and cruel; this is a man (dwarf) who spent his entire life and beyond being eaten away by hate and greed. It didn’t help that his clothes and hair were totally plain in this opera. Very strange – like he’d been domesticated. I liked the Rhine maidens’ costume change, and Erin Morley contributed a lovely bright sound to the trio. And, as we all know, Waltraud Meier was brilliant, and her interview during the intermission was as articulate, incisive, and intelligent as her performance. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the Norns, but my guess is that a lot of time was spent in rehearsal trying to choreograph the ropes and less attention was paid to the women holding them.
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.
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.
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.
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.