A couple weeks ago, my male roommate and I went to see the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD screening of New York City, so that was pretty cool. I was excited about it for weeks beforehand, going to the website and watching all the “making of” videos and reading the articles on it.. It was 10am here in California, and we were watching the opera being performed live in
Seeing the screening was really interesting; like I said, it was 10am, and we were at a movie theater in Burbank, and it was packed. As we scooched through a row to find the only two free seats available (conveniently smack-dab in the middle and halfway back, just where I like it), it became quickly apparent that we were the youngest people in the theater. By decades. I had stuffed my purse with homemade mini-cookies and fruit leather, because I couldn’t fathom watching an opera while eating popcorn and Junior Mints. Before the show they did a little behind-the scenes featurette on the development of the impressive stage mechanics, which was very funny seeing the Rheinmaiden’s nervousness doing the wirework for the first time. Then they did a live interview with baritone , who sang the role of Wotan that night. I was excited to be seeing Mr. Terfel in something, because when I was taking voice lessons in my teens, I watched a short documentary on him on Bravo (back when they aired arts programs) in which he was preparing a production of . It was right before I left for a lesson, and I remember being really inspired by him.
I loved the opera itself; there’s lots of resources on the stage mechanics online, but to summarize: there’s a huge spine across the stage of seesaw-like planks that spin to form different orientations. The use of light and projections turns it from the Rhein river itself ( I was an exchange student, so I use the German spellings of things) to the river bank, the hall of the gods, or an underground mine. Also, infrared technology allows the projections to interact with the performers, so to quote director Robert LePage “The Rheinmaden who sings the loudest gets the most bubbles”. Also pebbles on the riverbank would be knocked aside as they swished their fishy tails back in forth, or fall in a cascade as the dwarf Alberich tried to climb up to reach them.
Here's a link to the video preview so you can see what I mean: http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid610237632001?bctid=615451417001
I thought this production was incredibly successful, because every part of the impressive technical elements was used to help tell the story. Things like putting the two giants up on the platform above the other performers, and giving them costumes with bulky understructures actually made them look like huge, towering creatures. I’m very interesting in theatre as a tool of communication, and what you tell the audience through the choices you make onstage.
The LA Opera recently performed Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle, an event which generated a lot of buzz. Honestly, I can’t afford to go the opera here, so I didn’t see it myself. My roommate and I checked out the ticket prices, and we can’t afford the worst seat in the house. But I found this video preview on their YouTube page, so the production looked a little like this:
Now, some people really like avant-garde theatre, and I have no problem with Regietheater—I really like it if it finds a way to highlight the themes of the show, or amplify an aspect of the characters, or lets me look at it in a new way. Bu the only thing I get from the LA production of Das Rheingold is Giant Puppet People. And I’m not sure what Giant Puppet People says about the story. Apparently neither did many of the performers themselves, who complained of the staging being dangerous, uncomfortable, and inhibiting to their performances. But obviously I didn’t see it myself, so maybe someone who did could tell me if they thought the choices were effective. (Also, lightsabers?)
Going back to the New York production for a moment, I looked at a couple of other Opera blogs, and saw a lot of people bagging on the costumes, which I really didn’t get. Not that I know better than other people because I’m a designer, but I thought they worked. They looked good with the other production elements, they were attractive and suited the characters, and they had glowy bits! I actually found myself especially attracted to Donner’s costume—I liked the line of it, the details of the armor on his right arm, and the dark silver color with his red hair was a really interesting contrast. He looked really cool.
From left: Adam Diegel (Froh), Dwayne Croft (Donner), Bryn Terfel (Wotan), Stephanie Blythe (Fricka)
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
The best thing though, about the Met’s production was that right after I saw it, I said “wow, that was a really terrific show”. And then all weekend, it kept popping back up in my head, and I kept saying to my roommate, “hey, you know what else I liked…” I think that’s when you know you’ve gotten a show right.