Metropolitan Opera's 'Ring' cycle is under fire
The Metropolitan Opera is in full "Ring" mode this month as it prepares to launch the complete staging of its new, multi-million dollar production of Wagner's four-part epic, directed by Robert Lepage.
No matter where you go in the opera world, a new "Ring" cycle production is bound to provoke heated debate and wildly divergent opinions. New York has proved to be no exception.
Lepage's production -- which features a 45-ton mechanical set of rotating planks -- has garnered some negative, even scathing reviews. Alex Ross, music critic of the New Yorker, wrote that the Met's staging is "the most witless and wasteful production in modern operatic history." Justin Davidson of New York magazine has described Lepage's staging as virtuosic, but noted that his talent "does not extend to humans... he leaves an interpretive void at the opera's core."
The New York Times' Anthony Tommasini has repeatedly criticized Lepage's monstrous set of moving planks, writing that it often distracts from the music and the story. He has noted that the set has experienced its share of technical problems as the four operas have had their individual premieres.
The Met's "Der Ring des Nibelung" has lost some of its key players along the way. James Levine, the company's music director, has had to bow out of all performances of the complete cycles due to health problems that have forced him to withdraw from conducting until at least 2013.
The lead role of Siegfried has been recast a number of times. Tenor Ben Heppner withdrew from the production in 2011, and his replacement, Gary Lehman, also had to quit, citing illness.
Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met, sat down with Tommasini recently and addressed some of the challenges of the epic production. In the article, Gelb noted that the new "Ring" has been "a remarkable experience... I reserve final assessment until I see how it all works out technically, when presented complete in the space of a week."
L.A.'s "Ring," directed by Achim Freyer, also experienced its fair share of criticism and difficulties. Attendance fell short of hopes, leaving the company with a deficit. In addition, the two lead singers voiced strong objections to the staging of the operas in interviews with the L.A. Times.
The Met has broadcast its "Ring" cycle to movie theaters as part of its Live in HD series. The company will provide encore screenings of all four operas starting in May.
-- David Ng
Photo: A scene from the Metropolitan Opera's production of Wagner's "Die Walkure." Credit: Yves Renaud / Metropolitan Opera