Wednesday, September 29, 2010

And they're off ... The MET opens with Das Rheingold

The reviews are in for the Metropolitan Opera's 1st installment of it's new "Ring"...which was also the season opener.
- Mike Silverman | AP:  "The 'Ring' has arrived, all 90,000 pounds of it. And, for the most part, it's worth its weight in gold.

The object in question is the most talked-about set in years at the Metropolitan Opera, a high-tech machine designed by Canadian director Robert Lepage for his new production of Richard Wagner's 'Ring' cycle.

After years of construction and months of rehearsal, it finally went on public display Monday night as the company opened its season before an enthusiastic gala audience with the first installment in the four-part work,
Das Rheingold." 

- Richard Ouzounian | The Toronto Star:  "The extraordinary thing about Robert Lepage’s production of Das Rheingold, which opened the Metropolitan Opera season on Monday night, is how it manages to be traditional and revolutionary at the same time.

...Robert Lepage and Richard Wagner: a marriage made in operatic heaven."

- Manuela Hoelterhoff | Bloomberg:  "The prospect of a new 'Ring' at the Metropolitan Opera has sent opera nuts into a state of hyper-excitement for months on end.

This may be the first production in opera history generating a stream of bulletins on the weight of the set.

Yes, the set, not the soprano.

For this unusual obsession, we thank Canadian director Robert Lepage. The multimedia wizard, best-known for his Cirque du Soleil extravaganzas, was hired to give Wagner’s four-opera epic ... a new dimension of edgy fabulousness.

Weighing in at 45 tons, the set was finally unveiled last night as patrons squeezed into the theater, paying as much as $5,500 a seat (this did include a champagne dinner ending with ‘Smores) for
Das Rheingold." 
Ok ... so, someone obviously forgot to send Manuela the memo. Here it is Manuela: jokes about weighty sopranos do nothing but make people grumble and roll their eyes repeatedly. Whomever told you it was ok to put that into your review - yea, not so much.

So, those reviews all speak relatively well to Das Rheingold. There is one jeer that I found and I would not be doing my duty if I didn't bring that to you as well.
- Arthur Kaptainis | Montreal GazetteYay, boo, yay, boo, yay, boo. There have been many contentious first nights in the annals of the performing arts, and the opening of the 2010-2011 season of the Metropolitan Opera will go down as one of the notable yay-boo feuds of our still-young century.

I say the boos have it. Not that any could be directed at the stunning cast, or the superb orchestra, or the splendidly coherent podium leadership of James Levine, who was returning after widely-publicized surgery and still walking with difficulty. All of the otherwise-oriented expression was reserved, and rightly, for Robert Lepage and his technical team from the North.

To be fair, we should remember that this new Met production of Wagner's
Das Rheingold - the preliminary evening of the four-part 'Ring' - was talked up to the high skies as the inauguration of the new high-tech operatic age. Which is why the indifferent sequence of mid-tech anticlimaxes on offer Monday night seemed so grievously disappointing.
I don't know, Chickpeas ... it seems like a success to Yours Truly, too. Even though the set did breakdown at the end of this opening night show. But, nonetheless, when you pair this season's opener with last season's - the much boo and hissed Tosca, you can't help but let out a sigh of general relief.


It has been said that as the new season opens, so does what seems to be a new electronic age in Opera. No, I don't mean amplification - thank God. But in this case, the new set - which is so huge that the stage had to be reinforced with steel - is full of all kinds of fantastic little tidbits of technology. But, with technology comes somewhat of a gamble because you're never guaranteed that it will work well. Zachary Woolfe describes the set for his New York Observer piece titled The Met's Bridge to Nowhere thusly:
The central element of the production is something the Met and the press have taken to calling "the machine"-a long row of loosely L-shaped planks, which can see-saw individually and also rise and fall as a unit, creating many possible configurations. Moreover, the entire structure functions as a projection screen, particularly for the interactive, digital projections in which Mr. Lepage and his team specialize, like a hill of pebbles that gently roll down as Alberich climbs up and a small circle of flames that accompanies the fire god Loge when he walks. There are times when Mr. Lepage's vision is elegantly realized: The opera opens with the machine undulating mesmerizingly as the River Rhine, and the gods' journey down a treacherous staircase to the mines of Niebelheim has epic scope.

The set cost a pretty penny, but was money well spent as this opening night was not only seen by a full house, but free live streams were sent to 3,000-plus people in Lincoln Center's plaza and another 2,000 or so in Times Square. This coupled with the fact that this production opens the MET's season of 12 live broadcasts ... Two things are perfectly clear: the MET is using a whole-lotta technology and General Director Peter Gelb is not afraid to take a gamble on it.

Why would he be afraid? The live broadcasts were certainly a technology gamble that paid off for the MET. Five years ago when all of this broadcast hubbub began, there were definite grumblings at Gelb’s pet project. But, as the Met continues to build it's electronic brand, which consists of the high-definition video broadcasts, live and satellite radio, video-on-demand and DVD sales, the critics have been silenced.

Gelb understands that in this trying economic time, the way to increased income for anyone is by way of multiple streams. So, although full priced ticket sales are up to 85% of capacity from 76% four years ago, ticket sales aren't enough. You need revenue to come in from every nook and cranny possible and the electronic brand that Gelb is meticulously building provides a generous portion of that.

As the crown jewel of the MET's electronic brand, the company’s nine live opera broadcasts sold 2.4 million tickets in some 40+ countries last season. The MET made an $8 million profit which helped cover a general operating deficit.

Not too shabby, hey?

Yet the notoriously ego-centric Gelb told John Terauds of the Toronto Star: “You can’t run an opera house and be cocky. It’s a bad combination.” Although let's be honest, he runs the most famous opera house in the world - I'd cut him some slack if he wanted to be a little egotistical.

As for the future, Terauds reports:
Gelb speaks modestly of his plans for the next five years. “I’m continuing to keep my fingers crossed,” he says. “The only thing we can do is play the odds by bringing in great directors and singers, tinker with the repertoire and introduce new works.”

Technology is not an end, but a means. “I hope it works by making good opera.”
Tinker away, Gelb... and by the way, let's go ahead and get that set situation worked out - shall we?

1 comment:

Joseph G said...

I'm actually going to buy a ticket to see the HD broadcast in a cinema here in San Diego. Me paying money to see a Wagner opera is something I never thought would transpire. Chalk it up to my being a sucker for interesting stagecraft. :-)

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