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Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Machine malfunction mars Met Siegfried.
Grounded: Deborah Voigt (left) and Jay Hunter Morris in the final scene of Siegfried.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.

Siegfried didn't get up the mountain on Tuesday night.

According to a report on parterre box, the Metropolitan Opera's multi-million dollar "Machine" Set, the centerpiece of the company's new Robert Lepage production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen malfunctioned in the third act of Siegfried. Singers Deborah Voigt (Brunnhilde) and Jay Hunter Morris (Siegfried) performed the finale from the lip of the stage. No one was injured. 

The malfunction occurred in the third and final act of the five-and-a-half hour opera. The Machine was executing a complicated series of gyrations, transforming itself into the Valkyrie Rock, the fiery sleeping-berth of the heroine Brunnhilde. Siegfried was supposed to climb across the top of the set and wake the Valkyrie Brunnhilde. But it didn't work that way. 

According to the parterre report, the set stopped moving, most likely due to a triggered safety interlock. Ms. Voigt entered from the wings and lay down on the acting surface below the Machine. The two singers sang their 37-minute duet downstage as the empty, stalled Machine loomed above them. As they sang, the "magic fire" effect (computer-generated flames) remained, projected onto the stalled set.

Designed by longtime  Lepage collaborator Carl Fillion, the Machine consists of twenty-four matching metal planks mounted on a horizontal axis between two large towers. A high-tech computer-controlled system allows the planks to be spun, moved and reconfigured to meet the complicated scenic needs of Wagner's myth-based dramas.  In the course of the Ring, this unit set forms everything from the bed of the Rhine River to high mountain peaks, forests, and even a great hall in the last opera Götterdämmerung.

A similar problem happened at last Thursday's prima of Siegfried. In the middle of the same Act III contortion, the Machine paused in mid-movement, jamming visibly and emitting an ugly, audible "thunk." It was later reported (by Daniel J. Wakin in the New York Times) that first malfunction happened when one of the planks hit a not-fully-retracted stage-lift.  Conductor Fabio Luisi slowed the orchestra to a crawl, and the device righted itself. But no such relief came tonight.

This is the latest in a series of technical malfunctions that have plagued this new production of the Ring, a premium event in the Met's calendar that carries a whopping $45 million price tag. The first took place at the Sept. 26, 2010 premiere of Das Rheingold. With just minutes to go in the opera, the multi-ton set stopped dead when a safety interlock was accidentally triggered. The contraption would not configure itself into the castle of Valhalla, which Wagner's Germanic gods move into at the end of that opera.

At the April 22 opening night of Die Walküre, Ms. Voigt slipped while climbing one of the planks at her Act II entrance. The diva slid a few feet and landed on the narrow acting surface, singing her "Hojotohos" from downstage. A more serious problem happened six nights later. On April 28, soprano Eve Gigliotti was playing one of Brunnhilde's fellow Valkyries, who ride the Machine planks like hobby-horses in the famous "Ride of the Valkyries." Ms. Gigliotti fell and hit her head while sliding off her plank and down to the stage. She returned to the stage and finished her performance. 

Siegfried is the third installment in the Ring and one of the most challenging operas in the repertory to stage and sing. The production will be seen in a live Met in HD broadcast on Saturday, Nov. 5. Later this season, the Lepage Ring will conclude with Götterdämmerung, which premieres on Jan. 27, 2012.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.