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Met's Ring, anyone?


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#1 Ray

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Posted 08 May 2012 - 06:22 AM

Anyone attending the Ring or parts thereof? I've seen Rheingold and Walküre so far. I won't discuss the problematic set, but instead focus on the singing, which is uniformly excellent:

Bryn Terfel: Best. Wotan. Ever.
Stephanie Blythe (as Fricka): To paraphrase NY Times critic Anthony Tomassini, she rules! She can sing anything, and she's only 38. Can't wait to hear her in Giulio Cesare next seasion.
Stewart Skelton, substituting for an ailing Jonas Kaufman, as Siegmund in Walkure: Authoritative.
Deborah Voigt: solid, if not the stellar Brunhilde of our dreams.

Onward to Siegfried and Gotterdammerung!

#2 SandyMcKean

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Posted 08 May 2012 - 09:44 AM

Anyone attending the Ring or parts thereof?


Yes, I saw the documentary "Wagner's Dream" last night, and plan to see the entire Ring encore performances that is being broadcast over the next 10 days or so. I also saw all the operas except Gotterdammerung in their initial live Saturday b'casts.

Frankly, I'm loving it. As I stated elsewhere in another BA thread, I am not thrilled by the machine, but not for the reasons most seem to mention. Indeed, I quite like the "feeling" and look of the production. I am particularly impressed that this production carries this opera art form into 21st century technology. After all, what's supposed to happen? Just pretend that computers and everything digital isn't going to affect opera?.....or worse yet shouldn't affect opera??

So why not thrilled? I felt that the machine made too many singers uncomfortable (especially the Rhine Maidens and the Valkuries)....and if they are uncomfortable, then I am distracted because I am uncomfortable. Now that I'm seeing it all for the 2nd time, my comfort level is much higher (I am simply paying less attention to that very human of fear of heights), so I am less distracted. That is one of the primary reasons I so enjoyed the "Wagner's Dream" presentation last night. The documentary (extremely well done IMHO) clearly shows how difficult this "anxiety factor" was for many of the singers (including one of the giants!). Having seen the actual human beings and their real life reactions in the documentary will allow me, I'm sure, to ignore that "fear" aspect of the production over the next 10 days.

One thing I hadn't thought of until I heard LePage discuss it in the documentary is that Wagner surely would have attempted to use every piece of technology he could have gotten his hands on to make the spectacle as "other worldly" and "God-like" as possible. I'm convinced that LePage is correct that Wagner himself would applaud all attempts to use technology to create a supernatural world. In fact, a very telling sequence for me in the documentary was when LePage showed a segment of the Richard Burton "Wagner: The Complete Epic" film series where Wagner is shown to expose his Rhine Maidens to some even more scarey and dangerous "flying contraptions" in an attempt by LePage to get his flying singers to accept the premise that his making of such a request was not new and not inconsistent with The Ring.

----------------------------------------------

Later edit....when I posted this originally, I assumed Ray was asking about the HD broadcasts since they had started just the night before. I live in Seattle, and had no idea that the Met in NYC was also performing the Ring live this same week. 5/10/12

#3 Helene

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Posted 08 May 2012 - 10:05 AM

Wagner would have had a field day with movies and computers.

I've only watched the first few parts of the Burton film, and he doesn't convince me for a second that he's far too old to play the young to middle-aged Wagner. The Min a is superb, though.

#4 bart

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Posted 08 May 2012 - 05:39 PM

A couple of thoughts about The Machine. One of the NY Times reviewers recently, in an overview of the four productions, has pointed out that the director uses it differently in the last two operas in the cycle (those premiered this season) than for the first two. In Siegfried and Gotterdammerung it is used less as a moving platform on which singers move and sing, and more as a moving screen for colorful video projections. I guess the director has learned and adapted.

I realize that The Machine relies upon sophisticated computer programing. But it also has the look and feel of distinctly old-fashioned technology. I was surprised to see how much it depends on things like as ... MEN PULLING ROPES. The documentary shows stagehands pulling, pushing, cranking, sweating, worrying, holding their breath, just as in the 19th century..

The documentary mentions that the Met had to rebuild the the stage floor to allow for the enormously heavy equipment to be moved on and off stage between productions. There is no mention, however, of how much this cost -- something in the neighborhood of $1,000,000.

The documentary is honest enough to show us some of the performance problems, since as the failure of the bridge at the end of Rheingold to move at all. Each problem is depicted as being resolved. The documentary does not, however, deal with (or allow us to experience) the creaking, cranking, bumping, banging into position which have been reported by reviewers watching from within the Met auditorium itself.. The filmed performances most of us see are subjected to sophisticated sound-engineering. This cuts out The Machine's noisiness, just as it evens out the volume level of all the singers, allowing us to hear singers that are minimally audible in live performance in a hall as big as the Met.

#5 SandyMcKean

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Posted 08 May 2012 - 05:48 PM

I guess the director has learned and adapted.


I wish I remember, maybe this will jog your mind bart, but LePage mentioned in the documentary that he purposely changed his use of the The Machine starting in Siegfried (I think he said) in just the sort of way you mention. He said it had something to do with the story or the music.....something......I just don't remember.

The documentary refers to the need to strengthen the stage floor to allow for it to be moved, but omits the cost of rebuilding the stage: around $1,000,000.


But to be fair, they also said that the original plan did not include the need to strengthen the floor. The machine was supposed to weigh 50,000 pounds, but ended up weighing 90,000 pounds. Once that "performing arts glitch" occurred, they really had no choice but to move forward. Also, the stronger floor will no doubt will have benefits beyond just this production, and thereby amortize the cost somewhat.

#6 Birdsall

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Posted 08 May 2012 - 06:09 PM

Bart, you are correct about the sound in the live HD transmissions eliminating noise (or most of it) and evening out singers. There is no way to know how large or small a singer's voice is by audio or video recordings. You only hear the size of a singer's voice in the opera house and hearing her/him over the years while seated in various places in the house (different areas can make the singer seem louder than other areas).

So it is best to see this live to judge, but I watched all the HD transmissions and did not feel the "machine" did anything for the story whatsoever that plain old-fashioned sets couldn't have done better. I had every intention of attending this Ring live. I attended LA's Ring, SF's Ring, and had every intention of attending this one after seeing each opera rolled out on the movie screens. The initial video that the Met's website used to have on it showed computerized images of the "machine" and some ideas what it might do. It looked so exciting and wonderful, before they ever built it. I was actually very excited. I thought this machine was going to make the impossible possible (turn into a dragon, etc), but I was very wrong about that. It ended up just being a clunky thing that acted as the main stage set and did not add anything to the story. In fact, at times it worked against the drama b/c it was just sitting there in a weird configuration sort of trying to be a area for the Gods to hand out on. Its best use, in my opinion, was in Siegfried as a 3 dimensional video screen.

Anyway, the "machine" has been a huge disappointment for me, and I had an open mind but each installment at the movies made my heart sink.

I loved the previous Met Ring that was ultra traditional, but I also love the Copenhagen Ring which is pretty crazy (like a wild ride). In Copenhagen's Ring a naked guy swimming in water is the Rhine's gold and his heart is torn out. One wild moment after the next in that Ring. I loved it! I loved the LA Ring too which was considered a wacky Ring. So I am not against new things. But I just find this "machine" so blah. For me it adds nothing.

I also mourn Deborah Voigt's voice before the gastric bypass. I saw her as Lady Macbeth, Tosca, and Ariadne as well as concerts/recitals before the surgery. It was a GLORIOUS instrument. Maybe not very dramatic, but a beautiful Stimm-diva voice. Then, I saw her in Salome in Chicago and that was after the surgery. The voice was still nice but no longer great but with a noticeable lack of power. Of course, at the time her surgery was so well known that I gave her some slack, but she really has never recovered that glorious instrument. Not a bad voice, but the voice she has now would have never gotten her to the Met, in my opinion. She became famous from that glorious instrument before the surgery. Now she is okay and does an admirable job, and she has also become a more interesting singer in that her acting is a lot better. So that does make up for a lot.

But my choice for Brünnhilde is Nina Stemme whom I saw in San Francisco last summer. I honestly felt like I saw a Brünnhilde of a lifetime, and I actually think that has been my final opera performance (attending live). It was a good curtain down for my opera viewing. Maybe one day I will return to opera. I am just so jaded.

Bryn Terfel is good as Wotan, but I personally like a darker sound (more bass than baritone) in Wotan. That is a personal preference and many will disagree with me on that.

Blythe alone was not enough to get me on a plane to the Met's Ring! LOL She is glorious.

I might go to Seattle's Ring next summer. I am trying to decide. The cast doesn't make me salivate in the slightest. So I am leaning toward not going, but it is one of the most beautiful Rings ever created, and this is the last time they are doing it before creating a new Ring for Seattle. So that might get me motivated.

#7 Helene

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Posted 08 May 2012 - 11:54 PM

It isn't clear whether Seattle will have a new Ring anytime soon. Speight Jenkins said that the board approved the cost of the current production, to be presented for the fourth time next summer, because he told them he wouldn't ask for another production during his tenure.

The last time there was a new Ring, there were six years between productions.

No one knows yet who will replace Jenkins after the 2014 "Die Meistersinger", what direction a new General Director will take, or what kind of budget that director will have to work with and when the company will be able to raise the funds for a new Ring.

I've heard good things about both Vinke and Mellor, and I'm looking forward to hearing them next summer, along with returning singers Blythe, Wray, Skelton, Peterson, Collins, and Fink.

The San Francisco Ring was splendid. I don't know what SFO is planning to do with it over time -- it was originally to be a co-production with Washington Opera until WO pulled out -- but it's too bad it couldn't be borrowed and shown in Seattle, especially since director Francesca Zambello is no stranger to Seattle.

#8 Birdsall

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Posted 09 May 2012 - 04:19 AM

It isn't clear whether Seattle will have a new Ring anytime soon. Speight Jenkins said that the board approved the cost of the current production, to be presented for the fourth time next summer, because he told them he wouldn't ask for another production during his tenure.

The last time there was a new Ring, there was six years between productions.

No one knows yet who will replace Jenkins after the 2014 "Die Meistersinger", what direction a new General Director will take, or what kind of budget that director will have to work with and when the company will be able to raise the funds for a new Ring.

I've heard good things about both Vinke and Mellor, and I'm looking forward to hearing them next summer, along with returning singers Blythe, Wray, Skelton, Peterson, Collins, and Fink.

The San Francisco Ring was splendid. I don't know what SFO is planning to do with it over time -- it was originally to be a co-production with Washington Opera until WO pulled out -- but it's too bad it couldn't be borrowed and shown in Seattle, especially since director Francesca Zambello is no stranger to Seattle.


I think Washington is planning to do Zambello's Ring after all. I think I read that. They had to put it on hold, but they are planning to finally finish (or redo) it. I will have to search where I read that info. When it started to be rolled out in DC, it was being billed as "The American Ring" but then they had to sort of shelve the project before it was finished. When SF did it, I think they downplayed the "American" aspect and focused much more on the environment, and I think that worked better. I did like the overall concept, although I thought there were mis-steps. Personally, I felt the little girl coming out with a small tree at the end was a cheap "pull at your heart strings" trick which made me and several other people I spoke with want to gag. But overall, the filmed portions which emphasized the environmental destruction worked well for me. But the absolute best part was Nina Stemme. I actually went to see her and feared she would cancel, but luckily she didn't and I left glad I attended. Without her participation I still would have enjoyed myself but I don't think it would be the memory that it is now, if she had cancelled.

#9 Helene

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Posted 09 May 2012 - 07:32 AM

That would be great news if Washington Opera were to present it.

I agree about the little girl at the end. Bad, bad, bad.

#10 dirac

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Posted 09 May 2012 - 09:24 AM

One thing I hadn't thought of until I heard LePage discuss it in the documentary is that Wagner surely would have attempted to use every piece of technology he could have gotten his hands on to make the spectacle as "other worldly" and "God-like" as possible.


Perfectly true, but from what I've read Lepage's production isn't being criticized on neo-Luddite grounds that he shouldn't be using fancy technology in the first place.

#11 dirac

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Posted 09 May 2012 - 02:44 PM

I forgot to thank you for starting the topic, Ray. :)

#12 Ray

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Posted 10 May 2012 - 05:06 AM

Update, post-Siegfried: Voigt was out sick, so we got to hear the excellent Katarina Dalayman who, I have to say, really has a richer sound than Voigt. Stephen Gould was great as Siegfried, after an inauspicious (to my ears) start. He's really got the chops for that demanding role. Terfel excellent, again.

I'm amazed, as always, how the Ring music seems to get more and more exciting as the cycle progresses. The Act 1 music as Siegfried forges his sword had me on the edge of my seat; then the "forest murmurs" in Act 2 and the music familiar from Siegfried Idyll in Act 3 (amazing, too, that it has such a small cast of singers--but 6 harps, though!). Gotterdammerung really is just an orgy of musical excess, and I can hardly wait for it (trying to keep Alex Ross's description of it out of my mind).

The machine, while artistically problematic for many reasons (under the general heading of "not meeting expectations" or "good on the drawing board/screen, not so great on stage") seems to be working fine, and the singers seem more used to it than reported in early reviews.

#13 SandyMcKean

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Posted 10 May 2012 - 09:00 AM

I need to apologize for my early post in this thread.

When Ray asked if anyone was attending the Ring, I assumed he meant the HD broadcasts since they had started just the night before. I live in Seattle, and had no idea that the Met in NYC was also performing the Ring live this same week. Clearly, Ray meant his post to apply to these live performances not to the b'casts as I had assumed.

#14 Helene

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Posted 10 May 2012 - 10:27 AM

I haven't hear this Ring live, but besides the first two HD videos, I've heard a number of live broadcasts on Sirius radio. I have no idea what the production looks like at the Met -- Lepage's "Damnation of Faust" had a different feel in the house and on HD, and each had their merits, and Ross writes "I wonder whether it is almost unfair to review new Met stagings from the point of view of one sitting in the house, since they now seem designed more for the camera operators" -- but the singing and conducting has been mixed, and, like with HD's, the balance on Sirius is not what one hears in the house, apart from the noise from the Machine.

I agree with Ross when he singles out Konig and Owens, and I've been impressed with Dalayman each time I've heard her on Sirius.

(An aside about Gelb's quip that "“London was really the equivalent of doing something out of town,”Two Boys" is at least the second Met co-production that opened at English National Opera: I saw the beautiful Minghella "Madame Butterfly" at ENO in 2005.)

I also agree with Ross when he writes,

Yet Gelb has stubbornly defended Lepage, and invited him back to direct Thomas Adès’s “The Tempest” next fall. In an editorial for the Huffington Post, Gelb wrote, “Because our ‘Ring’ is revolutionary, not everyone supports it.” Whether or not he believes that preposterous statement, he is acting more like a publicist than like a leader. As Anthony Tommasini stated in the Times, the Met needs a vigorous artistic presence on its staff if it is to halt its slide.


Gelb is a marketing guy who comes from what is now old media, but was a half century century ahead technologically from what the Met had before Gelb, and when the marketing approach fails, there is a problem. I give him credit for digging the Met out of stultifying layers of Zeffirelli decor, and for increasing the number of co-productions, pretty much the only way he can afford to stretch his traditional audience without breaking the bank on every production. For "The Ring" there was not the option of ironing out the technological wrinkles and recalibrating the direction beforehand as there were for other co-productions, such as the "Madame Butterfly", "Iphegenie en Tauride" (with Seattle Opera), and will be for "Two Boys": even with the operas released slowly over a few seasons, the fundamental issues with the technology haven't been addressed, and they're playing catch-up. From what I've seen, overwhelming technology isn't even the theme: it's just a byproduct.

While I think Lepage is suited for "The Tempest", just as he was for "The Damnation of Faust", the Ring is both too big and too specific for his approach to opera, this, unlike the others he's done, has far more expectations in people's minds -- including the comparison to the Schenk production -- as one of the greatest masterworks in the history of music, and the technology is a bust in light of expectations and his previous use of it. It overwhelmed the singers and the action on camera, and I can't imagine how this isn't magnified in the house. If I'm ever in New York when the Met is playing one of the operas, I'll try to see it for the experience, but there are so many other productions worldwide that I'd rather see, and I wouldn't travel to see this one.

#15 Birdsall

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Posted 10 May 2012 - 05:24 PM

It is funny that Gelb thinks the new Ring is revolutionary. I don't think so at all. I guess some of the technology on paper is revolutionary, and if the "machine" had actually made the impossible possible on stage (morphed into a dragon, for example) I might be more apt to agree. But to me the machine seemed to simply act as either an old fashioned set (what I mean is it just sat there at times even though it looked quite modern) or as a film screen. There were a few interesting things when the machine would move into the next scene, but for the most part it did not add anything to the story. To me it seemed to limit the drama in many instances (singers were sometimes stuck in certain areas of the stage and there wasn't much acting space).

But I will say that the original video that they had on the Met's site before it was ever built made it look impressive. There was one moment where it looked like the "machine" was going to create the effect of one huge flying bird or horse (maybe for the Walkyries), but that never actually happened but the computer animated previews when still in the planning stages showed that. It is why I was so excited initially.

I do think Lepage overestimated what he thought the singers would be willing to do. One of the biggest things is that too much movement can upset a singer's vocal line (breathing), so this is why opera has the stereotype of being a "stand and sing" genre. For good reason. When you have amazingly, glorious voices those singers put every ounce of energy into producing a column of sound that blows you away. Joan Sutherland, Montserrate Caballe, etc. could probably just stand and sing and your jaw dropped to the floor. You don't have that many singers like that but occasionally you do. The rest do have to act (and ideally you would have some good acting along with good singing).

Just as Lepage put the Rhine maidens up in the air (to simulate them swimming in water) I think he was probably hoping and planning to put the "stars" into situations like that and if he could have had athletic singers who were fearless, he might have been able to create a much more exciting and vivid Ring, but because opera is a genre that voice reigns supreme over any drama and the singers' comfort (in order to support their voices) is of the utmost importance, he was not able to implement the things he had in his mind (that is my take on all this). So I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. Basically, I think he thought he could create something amazing but he probably hit road block after road block due to safety concerns for the star singers, and rightly so.....

But now the Met is stuck with this mediocre staging for the next 15-20 years probably. In all honesty I guess I would say it isn't a terrible, horrific production, but it simply doesn't live up to all the hype, and the old Met Ring excited more people than this one has.


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