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Requiem for a dream

Last night, La Cieca finally got around to watching that documentary about the rocky road to the new Ring at the Met, and she has a thought or two about this whole brouhaha.

To begin with, I don’t think the choice of Robert Lepage to direct the Ring was a bad idea. He and Peter Gelb had a history together and he had a strong body of previous work that plausibly suggested he could do something interesting with the Wagner. He’s not a phony. And, though this point is not touched upon in the documentary, it seems obvious that Lepage had the approval of James Levine. I can also see the validity of Gelb’s idea of using a director from off the standard European beaten path, someone with, for lack of a better word, an “American” approach.

The basic idea was solid: not brilliant or particularly penetrating, but solid in a conservatively modern way. What primarily went wrong was that the Machine never did work the way it was supposed to, and time that should have been spent refining the artistic vision was spent nursing the Machine and improvising stage pictures that were feasible given its limited capabilities. That’s why in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung the Machine seemed to be used as little more than a projection screen, for example: by the second year Lepage and his team had resigned themselves to the idea that the less the Machine was called on to do, the less it could fuck up. That’s a very sad way to direct anything, let alone the Ring.

I felt sorry for Deborah Voigt. She seemed to be in over her head and, the second year, not in the best of spirits. I think it was pretty obvious she was fighting to make the voice work technically while struggling with new roles that didn’t quite suit her vocally or, in many ways, dramatically either. She’s apparently not by nature a genius interpreter or a fanatically hard worker, which is no sin, but given the qualities she does bring to the table, more support is required to create a really excellent performance. She needed both a devoted one-on-one director (which Lepage isn’t to begin with, and then he was distracted by the tech disasters) and a sympathetic, patient maestro to coach her note-to-note on the roles. She didn’t get that either, because Levine was first overworked and then unavailable due to illness.

The most shocking thing I learned from this film is just how low-tech the machine actually is, how much of its movement depends on stagehands pulling ropes and shoving things from place to place. Again, it strikes me that this situation could not possibly have been what Lepage envisioned: he must have expected a lot more flexibility and ease of use from the set. So what visuals we do get in this Ring are at best rough approximations of the director’s actual vision.

And then there’s Gelb. He is a tough nut to crack. At least for the times the camera was on him, his affect barely changed whether confronted with triumph or disaster. He’s opaque and mildly ironic; he comes off cold. This is not to say that he is cold, just that I think it’s a mistake to say he’s passionate about this or indifferent about that, because he doesn’t let anything show.

Now for a little crystal ball gazing: La Cieca is going to predict that this Ring will not return as planned in 2017 and that sometime between May and four years from now, the Met will announce that due to technical problems with the physical production (i.e., the Machine), the whole thing will be shelved indefinitely. There are apparently tentative plans already hatched to substitute a new production of another work, starring an artist who made a spectacular Met debut earlier this season, in place of the spring 2017 Ring, so La Cieca’s take is that it’s just a waiting game until the Met finally cuts its losses with the Lepage staging.

Wagner’s Dream can be viewed free on the Met’s website.

352 comments

  • almavivante says:

    Much earlier in this thread, there was commentary--some of it facetious, some of it not--about reviving older productions. Not that I think this would ever actually happen, but it reminded me of the time I saw Joseph Urban’s designs for the Met’s original production of Turandot (premiere 1926; last seen 1929), in an exhibition at the Dahesh Museum about Orientalism in opera. The sketches and photographs were extraordinarily beautiful. As I doubt that few if anyone alive today ever saw that production, it strikes me as absolutely reasonable that the Met consider re-creating a bygone production (not necessarily Turandot) that was so vivid and, apparently, so successful in its day. Again, not that it would ever really happen…

    • Feldmarschallin says:

      Why is it that people constantly want to revive older productions? Hasn’t so much progressed since the Turandot Premiere of 1926? I mean painted backdrops in this day and age and nothing more? Are you serious or is this a joke? But so much that can be done today technically you couldn’t pay me to sit through something so old-fashioned and boring. Why not just look at the pictures and listen to Turner on a 78.

    • quoth the maven says:

      The Verona Arena is offering a recension of their original 1913 production of Aida this summer (as well as a new Fura dels Baus version).

  • almavivante says:

    Not a joke. The reason (and I offer no other): Because the designs were beautiful. I for one will be sad when the Met’s lovely Rosenkavalier is retired. Not so the Montresor L’Elisir, which I was glad to see the back of, no matter what I may think of the current production. You, Feldmarschallin, should be happy (or at least gratified) that most people think like you and not like me.

  • marshiemarkII says:

    Dienen dienen, caro Kiddo, you called Kundry from her schlaf?

    But I’ll be happy to oblige since you are the only one who has mentioned the really significant offense of the aforementioned diva, and that is her assault on the all-important Heilige Gotter Himmlische Lenker in act II of Gotterdammerung.

    And let me hasten to add that it is not just a matter of “phrasing”, which would after all be a matter of taste, but the actual inability to sing the notes as written. It is, of course, one of if not THE most difficult passage in all of opera, as the soprano has to do octave leaping, from the depths to the heights, and back again, and over a roaring orchestra in syncopated rhythm mode. Not the stuff for begginers undoubtedly. This is the peak of Mount Everest! But if you cannot negotiate the fiendish difficulties of this extraordinary passage, then you are simply not equipped to sing Brunnhilde, period, final. Even the very greatest ones, have had to do compromises, at times, such as letting the chest voice disappear at the bottom so as not damage the ability to rise again to the brilliant clarion top notes and so on. But keeping the horrifyingly difficult rhythms, and the intense pace of the orchestral phrases is of paramount importance, and is of course non-negotiable. The poor lady in question simply fell apart, and left entire phrases out, and this on the worldwide HD telecast, and subsequently on DVDs. This is pretty unbelievable and quite a bit more than a simple “accident”. If any of the great Brunnhildes of yore would have had this kind of “accident” there would have been headlines everywhere, but here, it is par for the course, most people do not even bother to notice anymore. And now those newbies who buy the DVDs might think this is the way to do it! After all isn’t this the greatest Met Opera new Ring?

    I agree, otherwise with your analysis in its entirety. In particular in that ghastly battle cry. It is not the strained and out of tune desperate scoops up to the high Cs that are most offensive, but the cackling sounds that she makes in the middle section starting with Dir rat’ ich, Vater, rüste dich selbst….. where she makes sounds that are hard to imagine could be displayed by a professional, let alone at the Metropolitan Opera, by the current leading Wagnerian soprano. This is really the voice of a 90 year old lady! And those were the same exact sounds that I horrifiedly had to endure at the premiere of La Fanciulla in December of 2010. I was in the theater, and when she started, I could not believe those were the sounds of a professional singer, but that is how she sounded all night long. Not surprisingly, at the end there was hardly any applause at all, a barely noticeable increase in volume for Giordani and when she came out the applause all but died down……. Nothing about that horrible night spoke of success, in any shape color or form. I think she was lucky she was not booed.

    Then there is the unprofessionalism, in not learning the words. She made such a mess of the sublime passage in Act III of Walkure starting in Siegmund musst’ ich sehn.Tod kündend trat ich vor ihn,….. and culminating in Der diese Liebe. On the telecast she just made up her own words!!!!! Imagine the most divine words written by Wagner, and she couldn’t bother to learn them, she was simply unprepared. Not to mention the cackling, in again a very difficult passage, in which she has to weave in and out of the passaggio to negotiate the complicated phrases that Wagner designed for his Brunnhilde. Likewise in that clip of the battle cry, she sings the last word of the first cry HojoTOho, instead of Hojoho as written, hence deforming the meaning and musical shape of that little bit of exuberance. This is so minor and yet so telling of her carelessness with the greatest score ever written. Feldster is right, less time on Twitter and more time with the scores :-)

    Bravo Kiddo for taking the time and effort to really call it like it is!

    • marshiemarkII says:

      Before someone calls me on the Hojotoho bit, and how I phrased it. The actual cries are Hojotoho of course ywo at a time, culminating on high Cs, but after the first two, there is that like extra bit of exuberance, sort of post-high, and that is what I am referring to, in the score it is only HOjoho……

      • Bill says:

        marschiemark -- another problem with Voigt
        was that particularly as Minnie but also in
        Walkuere, she was singing flat much of the time -
        and that grates the ears even more some of the
        musical or verbal technicalities you mention.
        It is always sad when a singer loses some of
        their vocal ability over the years but in many
        cases other interpretive attributes cam ,ale
        the singer’s performance important. In the case of Voigt in my case for the future I shall just
        avoid attending when she is singing.

      • marshiemarkII says:

        My adored Noel, that Tristan with West and HB is from the Re-opening of the Prinzregenten Theater in Munich in 1996 after being closed in the 60s from the WWII bombing damage. I was in the theater, it was an unbelievable night as le tout Germany was there, including the Wagners, Eliette von Karajan with a lover young enough to be her son (tanned of course), and the Herzog von Bayern, with a lover young enough to be his son (tanned of course) sitting in the royal box, and I sat with Christos Lambrakis, who was Maria Callas’ closest friend. He died only like a couple of years ago. Ah the memories….. so nice to see YOU back!

        • Noel Dahling says:

          ’96!? When SHE was 59 years old?! And still singing like that? THAT is amazing. I thought it must have be late 80s/early 90s. It’s a shame her Met ring from just one year later was apparently not a success, from the reviews I’ve read.
          Callas’ best friend, eh? I feel like I could just talk to you for hours about all your opera-going experiences! I was born too late. The ’85 Zeffirelli Tosca is older than me(though I outlived it, you see, so I’ve won. tee hee:))

        • marshiemarkII says:

          Yes, she was 59 years old your honor :-)
          You see, she kept the voice together for the most part for long after that, take the Met Wozzecks from 1999, for example, even her detractors have acknowledged that she was in great voice. And I saw her do two spectacular Gotterdammerungs in Buenos Aires and Vienna in 1998. But it is true that the last Met Rings in 1997 were spotty to say the least. She sang a glorious Walkure final dress, and then the opening night (a Gala Night that was incredibly expensive, exploiting the very starry cast) was pretty wretched, then she pulled it together for the broadcast and rest of first Ring, but by the second Ring, again a sub-par Walkure, cancelled the Siegfried and made decision to sing the last Gotterdammerung at 2PM for a 6PM curtain. It was great, with an endless ovation, but for a lot of people there was the sour taste of the bad Walkure and missing Siegfried…. It was a tough time for her because it was the first time back on the set of her accident…..who knows, but she clearly had plenty voice left for a few more years after that including the stunning Kostelnicka of 2004 in Toulouse, which were her last staged appearances.

          You are younger than the Zeffirelli Tosca???? so you are not only adorable but a “baby” :-) :-) :-)

    • uwsinnyc says:

      Can you clarify what the “Heilige Gotter Himmlische Lenker” passage is?

    • phoenix says:

      And Brava to Marshie, too. Your wisdom is very much appreciated even though quality of singing appears to be the most unimportant issue at the Met these days.

    • la vociaccia says:

      I don’t disagree with anything marshie or the_kid said about DV’s singing, what I DO disagree with is the implication that this hasn’t been reiterated hundreds upon thousands of times on this very board. There was nothing groundbreaking about posting a video of her Hojotoho and pointing out the errors; anyone with an ability to google can find any number of analyses of DV’s brunnhilde on this website in less than flattering terms. At what point does it cease becoming thoughtful criticism and start to become obsessive mud-slinging? (i’m not at ALL saying thoughtful criticism should ever be considered mud slinging, except when it get’s repeated over and over and over and over and over)

    • Noel Dahling says:

      So glad to hear from my beloved Marshie! I was hoping you would chime in on this thread. Notice how Voigt sang the final passage of the Immolation Scene, starting with Grane, Mein Ross: she just leaves out consonants like Montserrat. I guess just getting the notes out was such an effort that the words were secondary, as there is no feeling.
      Anyway, I found a video on youtube of a complete Tristan with Jon Frederick West and HB, in her absolute , thrilling prime. Do you know the date of these perfs?

    • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      Yes, “Der diese Liebe” went for nothing.

    • Feldmarschallin says:

      ‘Nothing about that horrible night spoke of success, in any shape color or form. I think she was lucky she was not booed.’

      Exactly why don’t the people in NY boo her. This should have happened a long time ago already. We did the same thing years ago with Gomez-Martinez and then all of sudden he never appeared here again.

      If you just go and don’t boo then the Met will just continue to hire her. She knows quite well why she won’t take her Brünnhilde to Wien, München or Berlin.
      I think the booing that would happen might be worse than what Price had to endure after her Norma here. Tomlinson just got booed after the first Parsifal and at the second one cancelled and Jun sang instead. If the opera houses are giving you rubbish you needn’t put up with it.

      • phoenix says:

        Why ‘don’t the people in NY boo her.’ -- because opera audiences in the US (and in Russia also, but for different reasons) are hesitant to express the truth in public. In US, Met audiences are still wary of piercing the traditionally timehonored but mysterious veil known as the Met publicity machine -> since it emanates out of the Holy Temple at Lincoln Center (presently presided over by the Great God DagonGelb). In all fairness to the justifiably maligned Voigt, her trumpcard was always her rhythm -- conductors were not offended since she never lagged behind nor ahead of the beat -- no matter how absymal her pitch & legato (I have been informed by knowledgeable sources that La Bullock of Grand Brittania fame has the same skill of following the beat, along with other notable Voigtian qualities such as slurred intonation, approximate pitch and unsustained legato). I am sure that there are more and more patrons who have come to the realization that Voigt is inadequate (look at the ticket sales for her perfs), still most attendees will not boo -- the most they will do (like Bill above) is ‘just avoid attending when she is singing.’

        • Porgy Amor says:

          I agree with much of that, phoenix, and will only add that if you think the people in the house are cowed by the Met publicity machine, chat with the ones at far-away HD screenings. At the several theaters I’ve attended, I have only run into a few obsessive collectors who read magazines/web sites and know what’s going on in London, Milan, Vienna. Often they’re hearing the music for the first time, or maybe they have one recording at home. So, unfortunately, when Peter Gelb or Joyce DiDonato appears on the screen and says they’re about to hear the world’s leading dramatic soprano, Deborah Voigt, in the extraordinarily difficult role of Bruennhilde, they…think they’re hearing the world’s leading dramatic soprano etc., and that this is as good as it gets. After all, it’s the mighty New York Met, and that’s where the best singers in the world are *supposed* to be. (Same with Dessay’s Violetta fiasco and so on.)

          I’m more surprised when people who are obviously knowledgeable get snowed. Someone said to me, in a discussion of Voigt’s present condition, “Well, the roles she sings, Minnie, Bruennhilde, Cassandre…these days, it’s hard to find anyone who can sing them at all.” The first two of those roles were better sung by other Met singers in the same run (Matos, Dalayman). As for Cassandre, well, Antonacci. There. Not difficult.

          All that said, I have never booed a singer. In the worst cases, I’ll just withhold applause, even the polite/perfunctory kind.

        • Bill says:

          Phoenix -- actually I do not believe in all
          my life I have ever booed a singer in any
          opera performance. There have been temptations
          of course (such as Evelyn Lear, wretched at the
          Met as the Komponist years ago -- she may have
          been in bad voice), even Voigt herself in the last couple of years. But I have sat on
          my hands on occasion when I was not pleased with
          a vocal performance or lightly clapped without emitting any noise (even at the most recent
          Met dress rehearsal of the Gilbert and Sullivan
          mimic which was Giulio Cesare as some of the
          singers were not wonderful and I did not
          perceive that they deserved polite applause).
          But booing a singer? -- it is not gentlemanly.
          Lack of applause or silence after a badly sung
          aria I believe is punishment enough.
          As to set design and Regie -- if it is hideous
          and one must live with that production for the
          next 25 years -- well then, I have booed once
          in a while, though generally in unison with
          much of the audience. Booing at the Met for
          a singer has, in my experience, been extremely
          rare. However at the Met ample applause for a wretchedly sung performance is not uncommon.
          I have always found the Viennese and German
          audiences a bit more selective and discerning in their applause of singers than at the Met.
          Saturday matinee audiences seem to warmly applaud most anything at the Met. There are certain singers I do not partularly care to hear, and as mentioned above, choose not to attend when they are scheduled to sing -- but that is not always the case either -- some favorite operas must be heard even if the casts are ill chosen -- Some seasons ago Voigt sang
          (according to report) dreadfully as Salome
          in Vienna after some very weak Fidelios with the Staatsoper in Japan. The next season Voigt was not on the roster there -- so probably the Intendant decided no longer to book her alleviating the possibilty of additionally
          foisting the Viennese public with a singer
          who was no longer up to the roles which
          she could not sing. Ironically though the Viennese have traditionally been extremely “Treu” to old favorites who have
          had illustrious careers there. I think the Met public is also “true” to old favorites BUT the difference is that in Vienna, many of their veteran singers are willing evenually to take on
          smaller parts and character roles in which their vocal declines are less telling and in which their experience and stage presence still holds allure for an aging yet sill adoring public. Voigt could and should extend her career in this fashion if she so chooses. We shall see. Levine himself at the Met has been quite loyal to some aging singers -- Karajan dropped those whose voices had lost their bloom much more quickly. Sometimes pension possibilities have kept singers on the stage in European ensembles for longer careers even as he voice has lost its allure. I understand that Voigt is a very nice and gracious and fun person -- it must be very sad for her to live with her precipitous vocal decline. She has given pleasure to many in the past -- as said, to boo her even in her current vocal estate would would be rude and ungentlemanly.

          • phoenix says:

            Bill: best booing I ever heard in my life was at an opening night Andrea Chenier at Teatro Real Madrid. Cedolins as Maddalena was booed off the stage, but she persistently (and arrogantly) came out for round after round of it -- it was like the old days in the boxing matches in Madison Square Garden NYC -- but Cedolins met her match that night. The crowd was just as arrogant as she was & had a great more voice than she did.
            - As regards Maazel at the recent Met Don Carlo I think he deserved bravo not boo. Maazel had a specifically detailed agenda in spite of the quite often miserable singing from some of the singers (said singers who DID deserve booing). I have re-listened a few times already to the 6 March 2013 Met Don Carlo (the one I consider the best all-around performance from the Sirius Don Carlo broadcasts this season, in which the cornfritter made her most successful efforts to reduce the acidity in her tone -- and even occasionally imparted to me a memory of the essence her formerly beautiful tone).
            - IMO Maazel structures a cohesively eloquent Don Carlo -- albeit often with the slowest tempii doable (like no other I have ever encountered). Venerated veteran conductors -- like ah-hem ‘historical’ singers -- give value through their individual interpretations rather than applause-stimulating gimmicks. There is another issue: to go to a performance expecting the conductor to perform it to your preconceived personal specification is unrealistic.
            - Bravo Maazel for doing it your way -- not since prime Karajan days have I heard as monumental an interpretation. With excellent singers, Maazel’s interpretation would have worked for audiences in the House -- but they were not available at the Met.

      • marshiemarkII says:

        Carisssimos fenice and felder, the subject of booing is a very touchy one, and even a feisty MMII is not that fond of booing, in fact I have done it only once in my whole life, and for one of my favorite sopranos (Caballe in Don Carlo 1985 because I thought she was just lazy, in fact she had cancer and I still today feel awful about it). Most recently, the same week I saw the magnificent Parsifal, I was at the Don Carlo, and at the beginning of the last act there was pretty loud booing for Maazel. I felt very uncomfortable for him, but at the end when he came out, there was this person right behind me (maybe a parterrian?) that just went crazy booing, and the expression on Maazel was so pained that I really felt like scolding the person doing the booing. Not that Maazel didn’t deserve it, he was awful as almost everyone who saw it thought, but he is a human being first, and second I remembered his fabulous Tristan at the Prinzregenten, and the Elektra in Salzburg 1996, and how vigorous and healthy he was, and his 50 year-old career, and now this little diminished old man didn’t deserve that treatment. Maybe MMII is going all-softie but I really didn’t like it, that nasty booing. I think altogether, no applause like in that Fanciulla sends much stronger a message.
        Felder, I thought “less time on Twitter and more time on the scores” was a linguistic masterpiece and I hope to use it frequently with your permission (Oedipe ™)

        • oedipe says:

          Marshie,

          I would gladly give you permission to quote me as frequently as you wish, but actually it wasn’t me who produced that linguistic masterpiece: I think the copyright belongs to Feldmarschallin, if I am not mistaken.

        • marshiemarkII says:

          Yes that quote is felders of course but “linguistic masterpiece” is certainly yours remember? :-)
          Going to Faust tonight, this is one queen who likes French opera. Salut

          • oedipe says:

            Enjoy (if you can)!

          • marshiemarkII says:

            Carisissssmo, no worries I absolutely LOVED the Faust tonight, the music above all is really so so beautiful. Glorious actually! and Piotr was heavenly!!!!. Given what I read here, I must have lucked out because Marina sang well for most of it, though she left something to be desired in the glorious final pages, just that extra thrust and “note-value with abandon” was missing, but it was miles better than the horrible telecast from last year. I thought I would hate the production and ended up loving it also! Hopefully will write more tomorrow. But French music is not dead in NYC, though the theater was half empty, and the applause was perfunctory, for what I would have given a big ovation, well that’s NYC for you :-(

        • DonCarloFanatic says:

          Yes, booing just does not seem necessary. At the recent Norma at WNO, the audience was decidedly unenthusiastic in the first act because the Pollione was pretty awful. But he warmed up and sounded much better later on. I doubt that booing him would have helped him to sing the next act.

        • Feldmarschallin says:

          Yes Marschie you have my permission to use it as often as you like.

  • marshiemarkII says:

    Mes filles, voilà que s’achève notre première nuit réuni encore…….
    Mille grazie for the welcome caro fenice, Bill, Voci, and my equally adored Noel!
    I was so busy, I missed the fabulous discussions on Parsifal, Batty your comments were extraordinary, I learned so much from them, and of course Cieca’s in Musical America. Too late to rehash that fabulous production but I couldn’t match their eloquence anyhow. But I just want to say that it was one of the greatest nights I ever attended at the Met, mostly for the orchestra and chorus in Acts I and III. In the Act III procession/funeral I thought I had died and gone to heaven, Gatti was simply magnificent!
    The Met can still do extraordinary things when the stars are aligned………..

    • Rory Williams says:

      [I was worried that u weren't around, Herr Doktor M. Glad u r back among the Parterrians!]

    • marshiemarkII says:

      Sweetest Rory, so nice to see YOU around. Are you still single? or do we still need to watch you-know-who over our shoulders? (kisses to her too :-) )

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Would you like to hear the entire RING read by a real German? He does not follow the rules of diction for singers, but that was not Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s goal with these very interesting readings:
    http://www.col-legno.com/en/catalog/complete_catalog/product232

    Here is Die Meistersinger:
    https://www.col-legno.com/en/catalog/complete_catalog/product234

  • dcthie says:

    One thing I get from the film and also from what Gelb said previously is that he stands by his director loyally. The cynical side of me wants to say, it’s only him protecting himself. Because he knows he has many detractors and “stand by the artists” is always a justifiable excuse. But I think it’s why he’s able to get so many directors willing and eager to work for him. Unfortunately I think that’s where the problem lies. I don’t quite feel that he is someone to discuss the ins and outs of the concepts with the directors. So when it goes wrong, no body is there early to catch it. Lepage compared himself to Columbus and said he knew there was a new land but didn’t know what it looked like. Shouldn’t someone at Met have tried to at least make sure it’s not abyss and dragons there? After all, everyone knew he’s not working with acrobats or actors who know him well. These were singers who knew that regardless of the merits of the production, they would be judged individually by their singing, so they’re apt to react negatively to anything that might impinge on their singing.
    With some major speculation, I also feel that because Gelb stands by his director so loyally, he has created some feeling among stage crews and even the singers that he is not on their side. So the working environment might be a bit antagonistic. I know a union house can be hard to please. But I guess (again, with a wide leap of faith) if Gelb has shown more of a “give and take” attitude with the directors, there might be more of a team spirit and everyone will try a little harder to make the productions work better by contributing opions, instead of just trying to please the boss.