Mystery score

Mystery score

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Machine Stops

Around the net, we have various reports on the Met's ongoing Ring cycle. Here's Anthony Tommasini in the Times (and responses at Parterre Box); Alex Ross's recent NYer article is now available to nonsubscribers; as always, Brian at Out West Arts has plenty to say. Zerbinetta reports brilliantly and provides useful background. I'm linking to her primary blog address because I recommend reading everything she's posted about the Ring.

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.


7 comments:

Daniel Wolf said...

If the whole point is the spectacle of a preposterous machine on stage, I think I'd rather watch a Zamboni move about. And that would have saved them a lot of money as they could have borrowed one from the off nights when the Rangers didn't need theirs.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Hahaha. I think they do not understand the point.

Joe Barron said...

You don't let up,do you?

Joe Barron said...

"If the Ring were primarily about spectacle, Wieland Wagner's bare-stage postwar Ring cycles wouldn't be legends." - This is an excellent point, and I've been giving it a great deal of thought. Lacking the money for elaborate sets in the postwar environment, Wieland made a virtue of necessity. What made the spare productions successful, I think, is that they in effect liberated Wagner: they relied more fully on the music and the libretto to carry the story, and, after all, isn't that precisely what we love Wagner for? If the performance is good enough, you could do the Ring in an alley and nobody would care. (Anyone remember Vanya on 42nd Street? The story was so engrossing that you forgot you were watching actors in street clothes and a dilapidated theater.) On the other hand, I have researched the "machinery" used in the 1876 Ring, and it is clear that while Wagner may not have gone in for spectacle for its own sake, he did seem to want the Ring to be as "realistic" as possible and was willing to use the most advanced technology available at the time to achieve make it so. The cheesiness of some of the effects, particularly the dragon, was noted in the NYT reports of the first Beyreuth production. The reviewer wondered - anticipating Lisa by 130 years - if perhaps more should have been left to the imagination.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Haha.

It's also known that Wagner wasn't so happy with the costumes in the inaugural Ring, I read a few years back.

I have no objection to a realistic Ring (or any style Ring production at all) if the director works intelligently with the singers. Stephen Wadsworth's Seattle production is naturalistic and fabulously directed. You're right that if the direction and musical values are sufficient, an alley would be fine.

Wieland Wagner had extraordinary casts and conductors available, but he evidently was also a great director. I need investigate whether there are any film excerpts of his productions....

Joe Barron said...

As I understand it, there was a lot about the first production Wagner was dissatisfied with, and he intended to make changes in subsequent productions. Of course, the second staging of the Ring did not take place in Bayreuth until the 1890s, and by that time he was feasting in Valhalla.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I can imagine he was dissatisfied!