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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Twilight of the Machine

Robert Lepage's Ring may face the scrap heap.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Up in flames: a scene from Act III of the Metropolitan Opera production of Götterdämmerung.
Image © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
According to an article published yesterday on, this might be the end of the road for the Metropolitan Opera's current production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. The company has one performance of Siegfried and one of Götterdämmerung scheduled for later this week.

The report stated that this controversial production by Canadian director Robert Lepage was scheduled to return for three complete cycles in the 2016-2017 season. But unconfirmed reports indicate that the four operas, which use a single unit set (dubbed "the Machine" by the Met's stage crew) will be replaced in the schedule by other operas, including a revival of the company's current production of Der Fliegende Holländer.

The multi-million-dollar production (the set alone was estimated at $45 million) set the four operas on an enormous moving contraption, with twenty-four positionable planks that doubled as a viewing surface for sophisticated digital projections. It was an innovative approach to solving Wagner's staging requirements, which call for mountains, rivers, and fiery landscapes, sometimes changing in rapid succession with the curtain up. The sheer weight of the set led Met general manager Peter Gelb to order renovations to the stage left side of the theater (where the Machine set rested between shows) reinforcing the floor with steel I-beams to the tune of another $4.5 million.

The four operas of the Ring opened individually between 2010 and 2012. Although the cast, led by bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, tenor Jonas Kaufmann and bass Eric Owens was generally praised, the operas themselves met with mixed reviews. More seriously, a number of onstage accidents occurred, including an opening night Machine malfunction that spoiled the acrobatic finale of Das Rheingold.

Other problems followed. Soprano Deborah Voigt tripped over her skirt as she tried to climb the Machine on opening night of Die Walküre. In another mishap, one of the Valkyries fell off the set in the Ride of the Valkyries. On opening night of Das Rheingold this season, the Machine stopped dead in the middle of a transformation scene, forcing the actors to improvise on the stage apron while a stagehand tugged the planks back into position.

Although the Met tried to market this Ring with a city-wide advertising blitz and Wagner's Dream an art-house "making-of" documentary, demand for tickets was nowhere near as strong as for the old production, a photo-realistic show by the German team of Otto Schenk and Gunther Schneider Siemssen.

The parterre story indicates that the Ring's place in the schedule will be taken by Der Fliegende Holländer and a new production of Rusalka, the Dvořák fairy-tale that has become a house favorite in recent years. Also, another Robert Lepage production, Saint-Francois d'Asisse may be nixed in favor of the theater's first presentation of L'Amour de Loin, an opera by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. None of these changes have been confirmed.

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