Sunday, May 15, 2011

Met Live in HD Review of Die Walküre; Waiting on the Machine

The transmission of the Met Live in HD performance of Die Walküre was delayed by almost 45 minutes. We all imagined what the reason could have been--an emergency substitution? James Levine's health?

It turned out to be Robert Lepage's mechanical set, nicknamed "The Machine" doing what it it is best at--creating unnecessary distraction.

The problem was described in great detail just after the first act was concluded. "Each of the planks that make up the set have an encoder aboard," explained Met Technical Director John Sellars. "The encoder tells the computer where that plank is in relation to the axis. Without information from the encoder the computer won't know where the plank is, so they won't know how to map the video images onto the plane, and they wouldn't be able to make all the shapes with the machine. We had to make sure that that encoder was correctly seated and reading properly in order to get the show started."

The encoder was not correctly seated but we were. Because we were ready, anticipating the opening of Die Walküre, this delay created what felt like an additional preludial Act that attached to the opera itself.

This was the machine's revenge. I imagined the machine speaking in the voice of HAL from 2001; A Space Odyssey: "I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do."

Next time leave the thing unplugged and start without it. The voices and the wonderful attention given to the careful unfolding of the music itself by Levine and the Met orchestra were all we needed.

The machine projected images of storm and forest as the opera opened. This made energies in the music more literal. Later, during Siegmund’s Monologue, stick figures like cave drawing come to life were projected onto the machine which acted as a screen. It made energies in the music more literal. We didn't need either of them. Or, the same concept could have been transmitted through simpler, more direct technologies.

"I am caught in a trap of my own making," sang Bryn Terfel as Wotan in his famous Act II monologue. In this production the line could have been sung by Lepage himself.


  1. I encode, therefore I am (making you wait).

  2. but when it worked, as in the ride of the Valkeries, it worked. The audience applauded. We were ready to hate it, but.....

  3. Dear mamma,

    Thanks for the feedback. The famous ride of the valkyries is thought of as a time-out in many productions. And your are right, riding the machine like it was part of an amusement park was funny. I also was impressed by the final image of the suspended Brünnhilde.

    What I am wondering is if this expensive technological production really taught us anything about this opera: did it give us any new insight? Several singers have been injured on this contraption and the stage of the Met needed to be specially reinforced to bear the weight. I have not heard it at the Met yet, but several of my friends commented that the machine makes noise when it shifts…

    Later today I will be writing about the Trovatore production. Though simple by the Lepage standard, the set design actually made the opera flow more continuously and contributed to the overall impact of the experience.


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