When Tommasini, normally something of a soft-peddler about problems at the Met, calls the Lepage Ring "the most frustrating opera production I have ever had to grapple with" and the normally mild-mannered Alex Ross says that "pound for pound, ton for ton, it is the most witless and wasteful production in modern operatic history," you know things are bad. Very, very bad.
Zerbinetta's spy in Boston reported the other day on a public discussion that Peter Gelb and Robert Lepage had at MIT. Here's the money quote:
She concluded, “My interpretation of their justification for their Ring is: Wagner wanted spectacle, and we're the only ones who have the means and wherewithal to do it properly, so we're bloody well going to do it, and any abstraction or symbolism would be compromise, and we don't have to compromise, because we can do a perfect realization thanks to technology!”Wow. If Lepage and Gelb think that what Wagner really cared about was spectacle, they are so far off that they should both lose their jobs. If they are just bullshitting to cover for the failures of the production, then they should both etc. Yes, the libretto does call for many effects, from swimming nixies to the end of the world, but those are secondary to the real stories of the Ring: the passing of the gods and the coming of the age of men; how gods and men relate to and exploit nature; the coming of age of a young demi-god; the nature of love, power, and betrayal; promises made and broken; the nature of property and class.
If the Ring were primarily about spectacle, Wieland Wagner's bare-stage postwar Ring cycles wouldn't be legends. Perhaps it's time to send Lepage and Gelb to read up a bit on the history of Ring stagings.