Cher Public

Sun rises in east as dog bites man

UPDATE: According to an official statement from the Met’s press office: “During this afternoon’s performance of Das Rheingold, there was a technical problem with the track and trolley system used to guide the acrobat doubles in the transitions to and from the Nibelheim scene.  The performance continued uninterrupted, although without the participation of the acrobats. The beginning of the Nibelheim scene was improvised on the apron of the stage, since the Ring’s scenic Machine was paused by our technical team when the track and trolley system failed. The Machine was reset during the Nibelheim scene, and continued to work smoothly throughout the performance.”  

EARLIER: A member of the cher public who braved this afternoon’s performance of Das Rheingold at the Met reports that the Machine jammed halfway through the transition between scenes two and three.

Eventually, a phalanx of stagehands stormed the stage and manually pulled the planks down into an approximation of the “Nibelheim” configuration, as stage managers loudly chattered on their headsets. It’s not clear whether this snafu was the cause of Eric Owens‘[?] offstage speaking voice being sent out over the Saturday broadcast airwaves.

Another cher parterrian writes:

In this afternoon’s performance of Rheingold, as Wotan and Loge were preparing to go down to Nibelheim, the Machine lay there; gray and inert, but lopsided. Eventually a stagehand appeared and pulled down the out-of-place planks, about eight of them, one by one. Where they stayed. W and L exited. No Skybridge. No acrobats. Eventually Alberich and Mime wandered onto the apron stage right, in front of the inert Machine, and started arguing. No gold, no Nibelungen. Eventually the Machine came to life, and some stagehands (not Nibelungen) pushed the glowing forges into position. Later some Nibelungen came with their gold.

At the end of the scene, the Skybridge appeared, but no acrobats. No obvious mishaps for the remainder of the performance

Slight improvements in directing. Alberich did not play pattycakes with the Rheintöchter. Freia did not slide in on her belly.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s one performance down, 11 to go.

  • uwsinnyc

    Should they have stopped the music at least? I understand it breaks the flow, but in this case I would rather that than have to hear all the stage directions interrupt the music.

    I was at an Aida earlier this season and someone was really very sick in the first row of the orchestra, a doctor came up and the person was made to lie on the floor.
    And through this, the conductor kept going on, although he could clearly see what was going on and someone even tapped his back to let him know.

    • redbear

      I was at a Kennedy Center opera once and a member of the orchestra had a sudden illness. They stopped the music in that case!

    • LittleMasterMiles

      I think stopping the music has to be the absolute last, last, last resort. I was at a performance of Turandot at the Met back in the 90s and a lighting instrument (or possibly a set element from Act II, scene i, which had just flown out) fell the full height of the proscenium and landed on the throne-room runway. Landing anywhere else it probably would have killed a chorister. Despite a very loud gasp from the audience and (I imagine) many people on stage, the conductor continued in complete oblivion (then again, it was Nello Santi, so I wouldn’t rule that out).

      With the Ring Machine, the contingency seems always to have the singers vamp on the apron when necessary, but there are surely moments when this would’t be possible, especially if a Machine-freeze strands a singer upstage or behind the set. If Fricka’s ram-throne thing in Walküre gets stuck she’d never make it down to the apron in time to sing. I wonder what they’d do then?

      • Bianca Castafiore

        At NYCO in the 90’s, during a Turandot (with Audrey Stottler), a middle-aged spear-carrier clutched his chest then fainted. Another supernumerary discreetly took him off stage. Some people in the audience thought that was part of the action, but I didn’t think it was as it made no sense…

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Listening again, I don’t think it was Owens talking, but someone on the musical staff saying “I have to see the conductor”.

  • Phantom Violist

    I suspect it was a singer reminding crew that he needed to be able to see the conductor in order to make an accurate musical entrance.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Yes, and I don’t think it was Owens.

  • Florence Quartavodka

    $40 million worth of ugly, stupid, and boring.

    • Sempre liberal


  • armerjacquino

    Repeated question, because I’m really interested to hear if anyone knows the answer (other than ‘it’s Gelb’s fault’). WHY isn’t it working? Is it badly designed? Badly built? Badly operated? Not suitable for the space?

    It’s not just a question of ‘this machine doesn’t work’. It doesn’t work for a reason, and hasn’t for three years. What is it that isn’t fit for purpose? Which department has screwed up?

    • balconydenizen

      I was also at the performance. This is hardly the first performance I’ve seen where there has been a staging malfunction. Remember the performance of Gotterdammerung in which Behrens was injured? Should we crucify Schenk next to Lepage and Gelb? Overall, this Ring staging is second rate and is not worthy of the Met stage. It won’t be missed

    • To pick up what we were discussing in the Wagner’s Dream thread, I just don’t think the Machine turned out the way Lepage had envisioned. To spend that many millions on a fancy machine that needs to be operated by stagehands pulling cables? One really has to wonder whether that was Lepage’s original vision… and whether every challenge that the Machine has presented since is a by-product of the fact that it never worked as intended, that it was doomed from the day it arrived from Quebec City.

      At first, I thought that the mishaps were just indicative of a complicated piece of machinery needing more time for its problems to be ironed out before it could function at full capacity. But now I wonder if the Machine was ever capable of functioning at full capacity.

      • Chenier631

        I was at yesterday’s matinee of Rheingold. The machine’s malfunction was noticeable even though I had not seen this opera yet in this production.
        I sincerely doubt that the Met will scrap this production after a couple of seasons, for a couple of reasons.
        First, they spent an enormous amount of money on it.
        Secondly, it is not a borrowed production, so they are more or less stuck with it. My guess is that they will simply continue to take a chance that the machine will work in future revivals. I don’t think it is the outright disaster that many do. It had some lovely stage effects and several interesting settings.
        Also, Mr. Gelb is not the only one to be blamed for any fiascos with the Ring cycle.
        Maestro Levine was in on the planning for this Ring from the very beginning, don’t forget.
        He has been silent on the matter, more or less.
        Oh well, at least we ended up with the excellent conducting of Maestro Fabio Luisi.

      • LittleMasterMiles

        “But now I wonder if the Machine was ever capable of functioning at full capacity.”

        I think not. It’s clear in Wagner’s Dream that the Machine was conceived as being larger than it turned out to be (!) and that each plank was supposed to be motorized or otherwise self-propelled. The technical means never caught up with that artistic vision.

        If there was a point when the whole production could and should have been re-thought, it was at the earliest stage when that disconnect became obvious (to LePage or to Gelb). By proceeding with a compromise version of the Machine dependent on ropes, stagehands, and luck, the production quickly passed the point of no return: it was going to be nearly impossible to run the show without mishap regularly, but too expensive and too embarrassing to cancel the new production.

        With a few more glitches during this year’s revival, however, it’s going to get easier and easier for Gelb to admit that this production is a technical failure (he need not say it’s an artistic failure, whatever one thinks) and will be retired. And LePage would probably never work at the Met again.

  • manou

    Could it be that the problem with the machine is that it requires so many different elements to function -- stagehands, computers, hydraulics, whatever, and that all these have to be synchronized somehow and come into play at aleatory moments depending as they do on the cues from the conductor? This requires very fine tuning and does depend on all the various technicians cooperating with each other with a negligible margin of error.

    Certainly it seems that there must be a plan B if there is a snafu and the beast malfunctions at any point. It seems miraculous that the performance carried on yesterday, but they must have contingency plans at every stage or else court disaster every time the opera is performed.

    • armerjacquino

      Thanks, manou, for this. Your first paragraph is very persuasive, and takes us back to the original suggestion; that the blame for this mess starts largely with the designer and continues with whichever production manager declared it possible.

      Lepage and/or Gelb should of course have stepped in to sort things out before this point, but when a set backfires as spectacularly as this one then someone has been making promises they can’t keep throughout every production meeting.

    • eric

      manou, your speculation that there must be contingency plans for everything is interesting. I wonder how thoroughly they have thought these plans through. It’s possible they just have a generic plan: to put black-clothed stagehands out on stage to fix whatever problem occurs.

      On two separate occasions yesterday that’s what they did. When the Machine first got stuck, a stagehand -- partially hidden but still clearly visible -- came out and pulled the planks individually back into position over several minutes. And fifteen minutes later, when the Machine finally came back to life in the Nibelheim scene, a bunch of stagehands -- not Nibelung dwarves -- pushed the glowing forges onto stage.

      • armerjacquino

        Putting the crew visibly on stage is always a last resort. You can rest assured that every other possible option would have been explored before that happened.

        • jimupde

          It’s not like the stage manager had time to send an urgent memo requesting the entire production team to meet in Mr Gelb’s office at 2:30 to discuss all the available options. No, he had to make an instant decision on how to deal with the problem. In this case it was to send the crew out onto the stage to fix it.

    • DonCarloFanatic

      manou, this is not a functioning machine. It’s something we’re calling a machine, but in reality it’s a big honking prop.

  • Amnerees

    Sorry to comment too late, but I was at the performance on Saturday too. I think Eric has the most relevant comment: the infernal machine creates anxiety. Instead of concentrating on the performance, which was on a high level both vocally and orchestrally, one is worrying about what that damned piece of junk will do (or won’t do) next. It’s a pity that musical performances like this have to be compromised by a production that doesn’t work. (Luisi’s conducting reminded me of great Karajan performances.) When the principles abandoned Nibelheim during the malfunction and sang and enacted their parts downstage on the apron, I thought “I wish they’d just finish the performance like this.” Why not give concert performances of the Ring and just abandon this production until the Met can replace it? (Just kidding … maybe)

    • marshiemarkII

      “When the principles abandoned Nibelheim during the malfunction and sang and enacted their parts downstage on the apron”

      I thought Nibelheim was created as having no princiPLES, so they could hardly be abandoned. Could it be the the princiPALS that enacted their parts on the apron?

  • Amnerees

    You’re absolutely right! I’m sorry to have compromised the level of diction, spelling, and grammar that characterizes this discussion as well as the others on this blog. O mea culpa! I trust you understood my point …