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How sharper than a serpent’s tooth

“The Met’s new Ring is the most frustrating opera production I have ever had to grapple with. The machine represents a breakthrough in stage technology…. [b]ut on balance the effects achieved are not worth the distractions they create.” That’s the sound of Anthony Tommasini pounding the nail into the coffin in the New York Times. (Photo: Ken Howard)


  • Nerva Nelli says:


    Shouldn’t that read:

    “That’s the sound of Anthony Tommasini (not pictured)”?


    • Clita del Toro says:

      It’s really a sad, effing mess. Will we be stuck with this production for the next twenty years?

      • jim says:

        It depends on how willing Gelb is to cut his losses. It’s clear that he’s understood that the production did not turn out as well as he hoped when he commissioned it. Will he act on that understanding?

        • SacredMonster says:

          In the immortal words of the 70′s classic…

          Too much, too little, too late to lie again with you
          Too much, too little, too late to try again with you
          We’re in the middle of ending something that we knew
          It’s over
          Oh, it was over

  • kashania says:

    It’s indeed a sad state of affairs when this is the best that TT can say about the production:

    Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, has to be relieved. Except for one funny glitch the entire production came off without noticeable problems. The machine, the 45-ton set of 24 rotating planks, worked just fine, it seemed, and even creaked a little less.

  • jim says:

    Looking back, the things that really irritated me about the production (in Gotterdammerung, for example, the longeur of Siegfried’s Rhine Journey or the complete failure of the Immolation Scene) had little to do with the machine. True, this was the HD experience and perhaps it’s more obtrusive in the House, but blaming the failure of the production on the machine seems wrong. The whole thing was under-imagined.

    • mandryka says:

      Trust me. You get about ten percent (at most) of the impact of a production like like this from the “HD”. There’s really almost no comparison. In thye cases of those in which I’ve seen both “version,” the difference is quite shocking.

  • Gualtier M says:

    The author of this article has an axe to grind and is not giving Gelb credit for some of his successes (The Nose, From the House of the Dead, etc.) but has many apposite comments i.e. the unwillingness of most of the potential candidates for the eventual position of musical/artistic director to work under Gelb. The limitations of “Opera as Broadway for Tourists” (a gross simplification) but look at a lot of the junk on Broadway right now.

    Anyway, fodder for discussion.

  • La Cieca says:

    The author of this piece strikes me as an addled crackpot.

    “With Riccardo Muti’s recent concert presentation of the opera at the top of everyone’s best list, it is too bad that he is not available as a replacement. Once was enough for Maestro Muti at Gelb’s Met.”

    That’s just illogical. If Muti was available (which he wasn’t) and was asked (which he wasn’t) then perhaps it might be true that “once was enough [etc.]” But he wasn’t, and he wasn’t, so what’s the point of bringing it up? And how precisely does this Susan Hall know that “once was enough?” Muti’s single Met engagement happened because he found himself with a sudden gap in his schedule and Peter Gelb convinced him to devote that time to the Met. Thus Peter Gelb is the man who, 40 years into Muti’s career, brought him to the Met. If it is the only time he conducts there, isn’t is just barely possible that the reason for that is the same reason he didn’t conduct there for 40 years, not the purely guessed notion that Gelb did something to offend him?

    She says, “This does not appear to bother Gelb, perhaps because he is looking for an audience to fill seats in the Broadway manner by lassoing ticket buyers from the 50 million annual tourists.” Is there a shred of proof offered for this, beyond the wild imaginings of those “[o]ldtime patrons [who are] irritated when they are charged for changing operas on their subscriptions”? (You people already know my position on that issue, i.e., if you don’t want the operas on the subscription, then don’t buy the fucking subscription, you fucking idiot, but even saying “fucking” twice and “idiot” once can’t crack a really airtight entitlement schema.

    Oh, that’s right: she does have proof. She quotes a “producer friend” on the subject of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and reasons “This may well be Gelb’s position.” Perfectly logical, when you remember that Peter Gelb produced Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

    Let’s remember that this is the same “critic” who hated Anna Netrebko’s Manon and longed for the crystalline purity of Natalie Dessay in the role.

    Peter Gelb haters really need to find better material than this flimsy crap. It’s out there, and it’s not hard to find.

    • Cyrano says:

      Brava Cieca. I read that piece when it was posted to Opera-L and about the only thing it convinced me of is the fact that the Berkshire Fine Arts web-whatever needs a fucking editor.

    • kashania says:

      To be fair, La Cieca, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang also had a machine that wasn’t worth the trouble.

    • Signor Bruschino says:

      and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ended up closing significantly in the red… Just saying…

  • peter says:

    Well, I did learn one thing from this review. That Dalayman was actually scheduled to sing the Gotterdamerung Brunnhilde in a cycle where Debbie “did” the other 2 Brunnhildes. How odd. Interesting arrangement and yes, I know that this sort of casting has been done before but still odd. Was Debbie singing somewhere else on Tuesday night? Was she resting up for the next sing?

    • peter says:

      And if I could add: Stemme sang 3 complete ring cycles in SF last summer as well single performances of Siegfried and Gotterdamerung before the 3 cycles.

    • Bosah says:

      I seem to remember that it’s tradition for two sopranos and two tenors to share Brunnhilde and Siegfried at the Met, at least in recent years (can’t say for longer than that).

      Regarding Tuesday, there may have been something happening at the Tribeca Film Festival Tuesday night, the evening before the Wagner’s Dream premiere and roundtable this afternoon. JHM also was off on Tuesday night, but was at the TFF with Voigt, Gelb and Lepage today.

    • marshiemarkII says:

      Bosah, what you describe was the tradition at the Met until the Schenk Ring was put together for the first time in 1989. Since the greatest Behrens had just finished four years at Bayreuth doing the Ring in the correct way as Wagner intended it, namely Monday-Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, and the Met held no fears for her, it was presented for the first time ever in the week long format. It was repeated the same way again in the fateful 1990 cycles, and for Dame Gwyneth Jones in 1993. The great Behrens returned to sing her last Brunnhildes at the Met in 1997, still in the same week-long format. I don’t know when it became “traditional” again to go back to the old Met way, to have two sopranos and two tenors. But you are right, Dalayman was scheduled to sing on Tuesday, and was not replacing Voigt, though it caused a lot of consternation among some of my friends, who came from abroad to see the whole cycle and to find a different Brunnhilde for GD.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    TT: “Would this “Ring” production have turned out differently, including some of Mr. Lepage’s intrusive details, had a healthy Mr. Levine been fully engaged as the Met’s music director throughout the project?”

    Probably not, but if Levine had it in him he might have withdrawn in protest

    • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      One day, maybe I will master the use of the colon in English sentences and the correct punctuation / capitalization for it : “Wotan lifts her in his arms and carries her to a flat place on the mountaintop: a resigned father putting his daughter to bed. … I still find “Götterdämmerung,” despite the hapless concluding scene, the strongest production theatrically among the four operas, though for a reason that Mr. Lepage may not appreciate: Here he is more content to configure the planks into some striking design … ” IMHO, the second example is really badly constructed.

    • TShandy says:

      God, that is so beautiful!

    • mercadante says:

      I wonder if the production might have turned out differently if Lepage had been hired solely as a set deigner collaborating with a real director; it seems that he was mainly interested in the visual aspects anyway.

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    Well, I found the machine noise ruined many orchestral passages last night. I hate to read audiences had to put up with more noise in the winter. Even at what the machine does best, being a screen for the video projections, it is deficient and ugly due to all the gaps.

    It is a pity there is no exciting Brünhilde at the Met today. Dalayman can have nice middle notes, Voigt a nice top on good days. There is really no exciting Siegfried either. Luisi is good, fortunately, but only up to a point.

    It is nice for the prestige of the grey lady that TT does not like this production, but I think I loath and detest it much more than him.

    Not having Nilsson, Jones, Vickers, Rysanek, Leinsdorf, Karajan, Levine, but having an annoyingly noisy and grotesque machine to talk about is just too depressing. Too, too drearily depressing.

  • blanchette says:

    quanto- whoever you are- thank you for posting that ethereally beautiful piece of music hitherto unknown to me. one never knows what one will find here. have a nice night- B

  • La Cieca says:

    “For sale: one ring, solid gold, some flaws recently repaired.” [New York Post]

    • Camille says:

      Well, thanks Honey, for the recommendation about the Rheingold, the only one I’ve yet not seen. Maybe I will spend a big twenty on it.

      Debbie Joy does a great job as hostess, including promoting this series and “Wagner’s Dream”. Probably more like Wagner’s Nightmare, j’en suis sûre!

      • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

        Voit: “If it’s going to grab you and be part of your life for the rest of your years . . . you will never be the same.”

        in the case of the Lepage production: not applicable.

    • Nerva Nelli says:

      BTW, my companion noticed yesterday that Ms. Dalayman was still wearing the Ring at final curtain call, despite our having seen it with the Rhinemaidens.

      One little detail among many missed by the Vegas showman.

      Isn’t that what assistant stage managers are for? For keeping hold of such things when the artists come off stage?

      • armerjacquino says:

        It may well be different in opera, but in the theatre something like a ring (even THE Ring!) would be classified as a personal, and hence it would be the artist’s responsibility to make sure she was wearing/not wearing it as appropriate.

      • Pelleas says:

        I’m afraid I don’t understand why this is a problem. Surely there is more than one prop ring. And how, exactly, would her wearing the ring at curtain call break the illusion any more than would her walking out onstage and acknowledging the audience as herself?

        I dislike this production as much as anyone, but surely this is one step shy of blaming it for the weather.

        • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

          I will bet you that thanks to Nerva’s companion’s keen observation above the ring will remain in the wings for the next performance.

          • Nerva Nelli says:

            Hope so. Since the entire Cycle is about the disposition of this ring, I felt that having it appear “out of place” even at curtain calls made one feel retrospectively that something had gone wrong-- hard not to feel with that severely botched final scene (to me virtually the ONLY interesting scene in the Classic Comics Schenk production was this final one.

            Has anyone noticed Voigt wearing the ring at the G’DANG final curtain?

          • Bianca Castafiore says:

            Why does it matter if Dalayman is wearing the ring at curtain call? What matters is if she’s wearing it in the final scene, or after Siegfried has torn it from her finger.

          • Nerva Nelli says:

            ‘Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.’

            Of course, some had no bloom to start with…

        • armerjacquino says:

          I presume ‘the Vegas showman’ is a reference to Lepage. So now it’s his fault that Dalayman forgot to take the prop ring off. Extraordinary.

          • La Valkyrietta says:

            Love this review. It shows what is wrong with the conception of this ‘show’. Anna Russell would have characterized a diallogue between Gelb and Lepage, “We are not going to get love for opera and Wagner from the dollar spending masses after all, so we might as well build a machine and out-cirque Cirque…”

            The Ring t-shirt and baseball cap are at the Met store. You have seen “Mystère”‘, you have seen “O”, you have seen “Ka”, now see the greatest show on earth, “The Ring”…and soon coming up, the show that shows exactly why what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas…”Rigoletto”.

          • Edward George says:

            Usually it’s the fault of some second-rate fucking Brit ASM

      • Gualtier M says:

        Well, if I remember correctly Brunnhilde removes the ring from Siegfried’s dead hand and is wearing the ring when she rides into Siegfried’s funeral pyre. The next time we see the Ring is somehow has gotten loose from Brunni as she was swallowed up by the overflowing Rhine. As there is a lot going on backstage (and onstage) at that point I would think that the Rhinemaidens have their own prop version of the Ring.

        Dalayman probably never had reason to remove the Ring and the one handled by Alberich and the Rhinemaidens in the final scene is a duplicate.

        What Brunnhilde/Dalayman is wearing at the curtain call is sort of immaterial.

        • Bianca Castafiore says:

          Brunni tosses the ring back into the Rhine, doesn’t she? Or sometimes she does…

          • Gualtier M says:

            Stick to “Faust” you shopworn canary…

            From the stage directions in Wagner’s Libretto:

            She signs to the vassals to lift Siegfried’s
            body on to the funeral pyre; at the same
            time she removes the ring from Siegfried’s
            finger and gazes thoughtfully at it.
            [Then after more Immolation Scene]
            (She has put on the ring
            and now turns to the funeral pyre
            on which Siegfried’s body lies
            stretched. She snatches from
            one of the vassals a huge torch,)
            (swings it and points towards
            the background.)

            At the same time the Rhine greatly overflows its banks, and its waters inundate the area of the fire. The three Rhinemaidens swim past on the waves and appear above the pyre. Hagen, who since the incident of the ring has been watching Brünnhilde’s behaviour with growing anxiety, is filled with the utmost terror at the sight of the Rhinemaidens. He hastily throws aside his spear, shield and helmet and plunges, as if insane, into the flood.)
            Keep away from the ring!

            Woglinde and Wellgunde twine their arms round his neck and, swimming backwards, drag him with them into the depths. Flosshilde, swimming in front of the others towards the background, exultantly holds high the recovered ring. Through the cloud bank that lies on the horizon breaks an increasingly bright red glow. In its light the three Rhinemaidens are seen happily playing with the ring and swimming in circles in the calmer waves of the Rhine, which is gradually subsiding into its bed.

          • Bianca Castafiore says:

            Scusi, Gualtiero, but I am not the one that confused Alberich with Hagen above… and all I was saying was, in some stagings, Brunni does that, n’est-ce pas?

            Ah, je ris de me voir si belle!!!!!

          • manou says:

            Bianca -


            is this a (misspelt) comment on your looks, or is there actually a square named after you in Amsterdam?

          • Bianca Castafiore says:

            manouschka, you didn’t know? They also named an asteroid after me!!!!

        • La Cieca says:

          The implication is that Brunnhilde’s body has been consumed by the fire, leaving only the Ring behind to be washed into the Rhine.

    • Gualtier M says:

      Cieca did JJ really write this? When Tony Tommasini is more biting in print about the Met Lepage “Wring” than James Jorden, I am worried that JJ has been inhabited by a pod person infected by Peter Gelb or one of his publicity minions.

  • baumgaje says:

    Well, I for one enjoyed the ring. Yes, it is true that I am young, and have not seen 100+ productions of the cycle like some sister Parteriennes, however I believe that an average opera-goer can have an opinion that isn’t just as valid as anyone else. I have trouble reading so many comments that detest this production and it’s vision, yet read so many glorifying reviews on “eurotrash” productions in which the director has taken some (often ridiculous) concept and manages to mold the entire opera around it. At least in the case of Lepage it is still quite obvious what is happening at all times. I also believe that opera must go somewhere, and continue to develop, thus attracting new audiences. With all the technology that is available it would be utterly ignorant not to somehow integrate it into the artform, and that is just what Robert Lepage has done. If we cowered at the idea of making mistakes in order to make great advances, where would we be today as a civilization? Sure the machine messed up a bit, and the projections were sometimes off, but without ever trying, how would we know just what we are capable of doing with opera in the 21st century. I applaude Robert Lepages artistic vision and courageous efforts with this ring cycle. I hope fellow readers, regardless of their feelings on this particular production can at least see what Mr. Lepage has done for our beloved art form. And furthermore, it is wonderful that there are those of us who would go see opera if it was simply great singers, standing onstage singing great music with no costumes, scenery or technology to distract our attention, however, that doesn’t appeal to the general audience. For there to be opera, there must be money and that (at least 40%) comes from selling tickets.

    • baumgaje says:

      Woops- *IS just as valid….

    • Clita del Toro says:

      Robert Lepage’s “artistic vision” or should I say his lack of one is the problem, leaving aside the creaking Machine or faulty projections.
      Just from a purely visual point of view, I think the production exhibits a tacky, Disney-like, garish, over-literal, unimaginative look that is a turn off. So what , there are a few gorgeous images or effects such as when Wotan (Wanderer) touches the water in Siegfried. But you can get there from any 3-D movie these days.

      That production leaves nothing to the imagination is a biggest problem for me. Look at Wilson’s gorgeous Pelleas et Melisande production for its antipode.

      As to the direction, nothing interesting, nothing new, nothing much happens.
      The costumes, imo are just plain tacky more fit for a 3-D animated movie.

      “Courageous” is not the word for the Lepage; unenlightened, uninformed are better ones.

      • Clita del Toro says:

        baumgaje PS Don’t get the idea that I am not against using any or all of the latest technologies for an opera production. It’s the vision of the designer and director that counts, not the technology used to bring the vision to life. If their vision is misguided, no amount of “exciting”special effects will help.

      • La Valkyrietta says:


        Yes, no “artistic vision”. I thought of that when reading this Picasso quote: “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” How redundant this production is! Not a single element of it has added to the understanding, clarification or enjoyment of the masterpiece the Ring is, but added unnecessary distractions from it.

        Still, I loved being at Götter to hear the music live. Hagen and the vassals did justice to Wagner. I look forward to Saturday for the music and the singers, pity that again I must suffer what you have rightly characterized as an unimaginative, uninteresting, unenlightened and uninformed production.

    • louannd says:

      Dear Sir/Madam:

      I highly suggest your peruse the following thread from awhile back so that you may understand a little more of what potential a Ring cycle could be. Also very entertaining:

  • PokeyGascon says:

    I, too enjoyed the Ring (on HD), but I agree with many of the criticisms. It is a disappointment because it could have been so much better. The HD audience seemed to enjoy it for the most part, so much so that many I know are planning to see at least some of the cycle again when it repeats in May. I brought 4 opera newbies to Manon earlier this month and the clips they saw for the Ring got them very excited. There became less excited when they realized the time commitment involved. I plan to attend the encores that fit into my schedule. I would, given the opportunity, like to see the complete cycle in the house. Perhaps in the spring of 2013 my circumstances will allow this, although there are so many other Rings next year, it might be more fun to see something different.

    Sirius is broadcasting the complete cycle 2 starting tonight.

  • parpignol says:

    nevertheless I’m excited about Ring Cycle 2, starting tonight; is it possible that with Dalayman, Terfel, Kaufmann, Owens, Blythe and others, this has the best cast of any Met Ring Cycle since the early 1990s? let’s say: since Gwyneth Jones sang Brunnhilde in 1993 (opposite Wolfgang Schmidt!)

  • Clita del Toro says:

    I am listening to wonderful Rusalka from 1993 with Benackova and Heppner, but all I see (in my mind) is the fabulous Herheim production. E strano.

  • DonCarloFanatic says:

    I would like to have been wowed by a spectacular Ring. You’d think with all the money they spent they could have come up with something consistently visually arresting, with a machine that worked without looking pathetic or sounding worse. But no. This Ring design stinks. Count the millions of dollars spent. We should see those millions in every scene. We don’t. We see lame. When I see the intermission shots of the stagehands moving the machine planks by hand, I wonder how anyone even dare call it a machine since it clearly cannot move on its own. And it’s got visible handles, too. Talk about breaking the fourth wall.

    The sad part is, if Lepage had pulled it off, millions of non-opera people would have been attracted to the spectacle of this Ring, and some would have stayed to enjoy the magic of Wagner’s music.

  • La Cieca says:

    Some of the Met’s HD of Gotterdammerung has sneaked onto YouTube. Enjoy it now, before it’s taken down!

    • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      Who knew that Joan Davis was such a diva ! “Meine Liebe ist Gruen” auch dazu.

    • Camille says:

      I LOVED “I Married Joam”!!!!!!!

      Haven’t seen it for a coon’s age!
      Thank you so much, Cieca gal!

      • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

        I wonder who did the singing voice for Joan. It would be a hoot if it was Lotte Lehmann who was in California in those days. Maybe it’s in the credits of the full (nearly 26 minute) program, is here:

        • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

          sorry, initially the previously embessed clip was only an excerpt, but the whole show is there.

          • Camille says:

            No vocal credits given other than the Roger Wagner Chorale. It’s true that Lottchen did want to break into Hollywood. Listening very carefully, I don’t think there were enough of her vocal characteristics for it have been Lehmann.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    I bet Marylin Horne would know, but I have a feeling it was someone important.

  • Camille says:

    God knows why……..just now I got curious sbout our pld frirnd Unfaithful Zerbinetta, who faithfully reported to us from Vienna, Bayreuth and all points Deutsch. This clever young lady has solved the problem for all of us less than Perfect Wagnerites—in hommage to LePage, she has made up a handy dandy MOTIF CHART which is made available to all those interested in downloading it, in PDF form. How about that for ingenuity! Brava Zerbinettachen!

    So now you need no longer be confused by Wagner NOR be one of those ugly score totin’ people, like MOI!

    Her website, to the left, is

  • parpignol says:

    and yet, and yet, after Rheingold last night, I have to wonder: is this production really so extremely disappointing as the Times and New Yorker have now concluded; certainly it’s not brilliant, won’t change the way you think about Wagner, or leave you with any major intellectual insight afterwards. . . . but there are a few striking stage images, and an otherwise fairly innocuously abstract set that carries out the scene changes as required; costumes are pretty bad, stage direction rather flat, and the machine still sometimes makes untoward noises (last night during the prelude), but it sort of does the job, and, I have to say, looks better from the relative distance of the family circle than from other closer vantage points I’ve tried over the last two years; as a production: isn’t it actually better (certainly no worse) than the new productions this season of Faust, Manon, Don Giovanni, and Anna Bolena?

    • Clita del Toro says:

      Parpignol, yeah, do you want us to be satisfied with “mediocre” because the is totally what you are describing? Millions for Mediocrity? OY!

      • parpignol says:

        obviously, brilliance would be preferable to mediocrity, but there is also the question of whether this production, not brilliant (as the Schenk production was also not brilliant), could be simply serviceable for performing the fabulously brilliant music drama. . .

  • Baritenor says:

    For those of you who were at Rheingold last night or heard the Broadcast, how was Adam Klein’s Loge? He went on for Stefan Margita.

    • parpignol says:

      Klein started off a little shaky, but found his groove, and gave quite a nice performance, vocally and dramatically, not as high-pitched a tenor voice as one sometimes hears as Loge, but not whining or ingratiating either, sung perhaps more directly than usual, with understated dramatic irony as he contemptuously watched the gods enter into their hollow Valhalla at the end. . .