Dear Mr LePage
I start off with a series of confessions.
First, I have not seen your interpretation of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in its entirety. Not yet. But I have seen Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung. The first on Opening Night in New York as well as the second performance in that run, and Götterdämmerung courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera’s excellent HD Live Season.
Second. I am a Wagner fan. Perhaps a ‘purist’ but not a ‘cranky’ operagoer. But a great admirer of Wagner and of opera as a whole in it entire dramatic sweep.
Third. I have seen a few complete Ring cycles live, most recently in San Francisco and more than a few on DVD including Kasper Holten’s Ring from Copenhagen and Chereau’s thought-provoking interpretation. And I have seen individual performances from the cycle in both the United States and Europe including the Schenk production in New York.
Therefore I read your interview in The New York Times with interest and increasing anger.
Of course any production will have its detractors. Its naysayers. The people who simple refuse to ‘get with the project’. But I find your position, well, faintly ridiculous and offensive. And I don’t only mean your criticism of the ‘purists’ and ‘cranks’ many of whom, I might incidentally add, funded your project through the benefices of their sponsorship and support.
And of course I stand corrected if somewhere along the line The New York Times has in some way misquoted you. It happens.
But your argument, in fact your rearguard defence given in the Met’s ‘unadorned office’, simply does not quite gel. Not for me.
On reading, and re-reading the article in question, I was struck by your claim that after focusing on each opera individually, you can now more easily ‘envision’ the quartet.
I have worked in the industry and seen some of the best producers and directors at their ‘business’. I have looked on as they have struggled to bring together sometimes disparate ideas together into one coherent narrative – and not always with total success. So I have to ask, did you not step back at any time and see Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung as a whole – ‘a package’ (Really? A package) – at any moment from after you put the phone down on Peter Gelb and said, “I’ll do it”?
Even on the most basic of production issues did you not check and redress in rehearsal (and I seem to remember that you were given a great deal of rehearsal time) that the projections could be seen on the singers’ bodies?
And most vitally has it really taken countless individual performances before you would concede and take action on the “groaning and grinding” of “that monster”? It’s almost arrogant to reach a solution that involves only moving them in the “less quiet moments in the score”. Thank goodness – I can almost hear you say – for Wagner’s ‘loud bits’.
And as for the direction of the singers, this is something that the majority of critics, bloggers and people who attended commented on. Direction. What direction? From before the very first Ring cycle was performed at Bayreuth, Wagner was very clear on the relationship of his music to the staging. And of the required acting ability of his singers. I am glad that Siegmund and Sieglinde are going to spend more of their time toward the front of the stage. My recollection was that they are already spending quite a lot of time at the front of the stage. It’s just that they aren’t being directed in what to do when they are there.
“People are protective”. Yes they are. But shame on you. Even amid all the stories swirling around about having to strengthen the stage and ongoing technical troubles there wasn’t a person in the auditorium on any given night – or in a cinema somewhere in the world – who didn’t give the production – and you – the benefit of the doubt.
And ‘false’ debate? If you are going to construct a 45-ton set of planks then expect debate. Welcome discussion. And listen. I don’t deny that giant transforming sets have been used elsewhere. But I can’t think of one before this that consumed everything before it – singers, orchestra, dramaturgy, narrative and originality.
I would argue that everyone who sits in the opera is there for the music. Focused on it. Music first. Production second. A good production enhances an opera. A fantastic production can result in greater and deeper understanding and insight. Opera is a combination of various elements including the music and the production. Funfairs and circuses provide spectacle, often using multi-ton machines that do creak and moan but for the very reason that it doesn’t matter if they do so. It doesn’t detract from the pipe-organ music of the ride.
But not at the opera. The audience can and does deal with, and accustom themselves to appropriate scene-changing noise. But your “monster” made that impossible.
As to your point that The Ring is ‘always dipped in these layers and layers of social-political stances’. It’s right and proper that directors should reinterpret Wagner and often they will look to their own society as well as the past to do so.
For them it magnifies the ideas of the Ring. It personalises it. But you didn’t magnify the ideas of The Ring. You smothered them. There was no personality or character in your bland interpretation. And by the way opera singers don’t only use their eyes to magnify the emotions they are experiencing. Ask them and you’ll find out it’s much more complicated than that.
And so to the ‘purists’ and the ‘cranky’ operagoers. I have never heard anyone I know – and I count myself sometimes as a cranky purist – say “We don’t want those people because they don’t know what opera is”.
The majority of those who go to the opera – however often – are well aware of the difficulties and dangers this art form is facing. Falling sponsorship, tighter budgets and the need to attract new and younger audiences.
Yes some people do sit there with scores. There’s nothing wrong with that by the way. But the majority of us sit back, listen and watch.
How absurd. How patronising. How insulting of the audience that you purport to entertain to dismiss them with a childish facial expression. Again. Shame on you.
Your Ring Cycle promised hope that it might meet some of these challenges head on and pose some questions. Sadly your patronising attitude just confirms one thing to me.
It was a vanity project. Yours. And Peter Gelb’s.
But well done. You did go back to the 19th century. You have created a modern take on a last-century folly.