WAGNER: Das Rheingold
WAGNER: Die Walküre
"WAGNER'S DREAM" - A documentary by Susan Froemke about the
Met production of The Ring directed by Robert Lepage, a five-year project
huge "machine" so heavy that the Met stage had to be reenforced, and
cost $16 million.
THE COMPLETE RING IS AVAILABLE IN A BOXED SET THAT ALSO INCLUDES THE
DOCUMENTARY THE MAKINHG OF THE RING, FIVE DISKS ON BLU RAY, EIGHT ON
This huge Met production of The Ring is fascinating in many ways. It features "the machine," a massive mechanical device created by Robert Lepage that moves 24 large aluminum planks into various positions. This is the focal point, and on these planks and other parts of the stage scenery is projected, which work very well. Singers have to cope with the planks which often are at a steep angle sometimes making movement precarious to say the least. There are some unique effects, particularly when each valkyries "rides" a moving plank representing a horse, and later slides down the ramp, looking rather silly while doing so. The background planks often are moving, and it is impressive to watch their changing configuration. Apparently the mechanical glitches that marred first performances of this production (including creaking sounds and failure to work) have been ironed out—so the apparatus does what it is supposed to do. Yet I cannot help but wonder if this elaborate backdrop mechanism, costing $16 million, was really worth it. Projected images and backgrounds don't have to be displayed on this behemoth, and would have been just as effective on a basic background. The spectacular 2007 Valencia "Ring for the 21st Century" produced by Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia and conducted by Zubin Mehta uses projections to brilliant and often magical effect, much more so than this new Met effort.. All four of these Valencia productions have been mentioned on this site: Das Rheingold and Die Walküre (REVIEW), Siegfried and Götterdämmerung (REVIEW).
While staging of a number of episodes from The Ring are questionable, two disappoint and are unimaginatively staged. Wotan's Farewell at the end of Walküre is ineffective, with a body-double for Brünnhilde lying at an awkward angle surrounded by feeble flames. And the final Immolation Scene, the climax of The Ring, is a disaster with a mechanical horse that looks silly and plods along shaking its head unconvincingly. It looks stupid, particularly when Deborah Voight leaps onto its back as it creaks its way into rather unimpressive fire. Wagner deserves better than this.
The Met performances are sterling with superb over-all casting. Jonas Kaufmann is an ideal Siegmund and it always is a pleasure to watch him perform; he is fearless and has the power for this heroic role. Eric Owen is a definitive Alberich, Hans-Peter König powerful as Hunding, Fafner and Hagen. Eva-Maria Westbroek is a convincing Sieglinde, Stephanie Blythe almost a force of nature as Fricka. Bryn Terfel doesn't have the command of the role of Wotan that James Morris displayed in his Met performances. Deborah Voight, in excellent form as Brünnhilde, dramatically is outstanding. Waldtraud Meier, herself one of the great Wagnerian sopranos of our time, is magnificent as Waltraud. The Rhine maidens and Norns are perfect—what a pleasure it is to have these roles sung by sopranos who look their parts. The Met lucked out when they were able to acquire American tenor Jay Hunter Morris (b. 1963 in Paris, Texas) who was called in on eight day's notice to replace Gary Lehman who himself had replaced Ben Heppner). Morris is outstanding in this most difficult of all tenor roles, a fine actor as well. Of course the Met Orchestra is magnificent, particularly in the first two operas conducted by James Levine.
Surely all lovers of Wagner will wish to view this unique Ring. It has many production flaws because of Lepage's concept, but there are some amazing moments. Of course we only see what the video director wants us to see including many close-ups of singers who seem to be looking for the prompter (during final curtain calls, Morris actually shakes hands with the prompter). An outstanding performance of Wagner's Ring is a rare thing, and this is one of them. But for parts of it, you might wish to close your eyes.
The bonus film, rather pretentiously called Wagner's Dream, covers creation of this production, interviews with Robert Lepage and Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Met, in which they attempt, unsuccessfully, to justify this production and its enormous cost.
R.E.B. (January 2013)