Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Two-Hour Apology; Review of "Wagner's Dream" from the Met

"I'm sorry."

They could have just left it at that.

"Wagner's Dream," which was Susan Froemke's documentary about the Lepage Ring, was less about Wagner's dream itself than a two-hour apology for a machine that was never quite right. It drew too much attention to the least successful part of the enterprise and left unspoken many of the elements that did work. 

Here was the Met's opportunity to show us what we missed the first time around. I expected to hear insights about how the positions, shapes and colors interacted with Wagner's musical systems, and to hear from many of the excellent singers who populated 16 hours of opera.

Instead, the positioning favored Gelb as a leader in bringing out innovative new productions and in creating a new and vibrant audience for opera, even though this production fell short of its potential. After all, Gelb was tested by a production that was 40,000 pounds overweight and never fully ready for the task at hand. I am a Gelb-ist. I did not need convincing.

The Met crew had fans among those who attended this screening because of their visibility during Live-in-HD interludes. The stress on this crew went far beyond what I had imagined. They remained involved in every detail and stretched this bulky and barely usable system in unbelievable ways to make it work as well as it did.

But even within the realm of the singing itself, this documentary focused too much what did not work. Deborah Voigt was miscast. It did give an appreciation for her professionalism; the sheer ability to continue in spite of all obstacles. But where was Bryn Terfel, Stephanie Blythe, Richard Croft, and Eric Owens? And too much of the footage they had of Jay Hunter Morris was cut...we saw a much more thorough documentation of his arrival during the intermission of the Live-in-HD transmission of Siegfried on November 5, 2011.

Thankfully there were short commentaries from Margaret Juntwait and William Berger, but these should have been extended and further developed. The documentary was intellectually light as a result. It could have been a teachable moment.

I also think more time could have been spent revealing the things that did work in this production--especially the singing. They did focus on the Rhinemaidens in the magnificent opening scene of Rhinegold, which was one of the most impressive moments in the entire cycle, both visually and musically. I was eager to find out more about the interactive projections. Nope. Nothing. Instead we were steeped in the learning curve as the singers discovered how to interact with the machine. Even success felt heavy. 

Far from realizing "Wagner's Dream," the machine created its own particular nightmares and this film asked us to sit as insiders and watch them unfold. It did not make me want to see the Lepage productions again.

However, if you have not seen this cycle I would recommend attending. Do not see "Wagner's Dream." See Wagner's dream. Don't think about the machine anymore. It was the non-mechanized magic that was best. 

Other reviews about this production on Sonic Labyrinth:

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