The Making of the Metropolitan Opera's New Der Ring des Nibelungen. Directed by Susan Froemke. Deutsche Grammophon 001735609 (DVD) or 001735559 (Blu-ray), 114 mins., subtitled
This compulsively watchable documentary covers more than four years in the life of the Metropolitan Opera — and in the lives of the men and women who brought Robert Lepage's production of the Ring to the stage. Wagner's Dream has little in the way of extended sequences of actual Ring performances — those are available complete as separate DVD or Blu-ray releases. This film is the story of how the Ring happened, how its designs and direction were developed and how its singers adjusted to its unfamiliar, highly unconventional physical world.
The documentary does not shy away from presenting the bumps in the road that the Ring experienced between January 2008, when the action of the documentary begins, and April 2012, when the first full Lepage cycle was presented at the Met. The size and scope of the set are, unsurprisingly, presented as the most daunting challenges that were faced in theory (in the workshops in Canada where the set was developed) and in practice; director Susan Froemke does a terrific job of capturing the very real tension in the air as the crew, staff and management of the Met watch the first move of the 90,000-pound set onto the Met stage. As was well-reported at the time of the premiere of Das Rheingold in 2010, the set experienced some operational glitches on opening night: Wagner's Dream shows the reaction of the cast and crew backstage when the rainbow bridge failed to appear, with Jennifer Johnson Cano, the Wellgunde, muttering, "Bummer, dude." The film is also frank in letting its audience see the physical challenges the singers faced in performing in the Lepage Ring. We see the first anxious flight of the Rhinemaidens, an uneasy moment for Hans Peter König's Fafner during a Rheingold rehearsal and — most vividly — a stage rehearsal during which the Valkyries ride the enormous stage machine for the first time. (Asked if she's O.K., one of the singers replies, "No. Scared out of my head.")
The withdrawal of Met music director James Levine due to illness was undoubtedly the most important personnel shift during the gestation of the Lepage Ring, and it is handled here with sensitivity and tact. Levine is not interviewed on camera but is shown conducting a stage rehearsal for Walküre during the 2010–11 season. A subdued interview with Met general manager Peter Gelb touches on Levine's withdrawal from the Ring the following season and his own sadness that Levine was not able to complete the project. The arrival of principal conductor Fabio Luisi as the Ring maestro is handled with a shot of Luisi literally arriving in the pit — and the show goes on. Another major Ring change involves the arrival of tenor Jay Hunter Morris, who, having taken over the role of Siegfried on a few days' notice, breezes into the documentary, establishing himself as a highly engaging presence.
The most compelling sections of the film are those involving Deborah Voigt, who took on the role of Brünnhilde for the first time in this Ring. Voigt is shown rehearsing, coaching, posing for PR photos, watching the action and taking a spill onstage on opening night. She is interviewed extensively and is unfailingly wry, funny and direct; it is fascinating to watch her work on some of Brünnhilde's music with coach John Fisher or wisecrack with wig designer Tom Watson. Her best shot? Voigt walking toward the stage with Susan Gomez-Pizzo, the ladies' wardrobe supervisor, who seems just as invested in Voigt's success as the soprano herself. It makes the point that while this Ring may have been the vision of one man, its realization was the work of a company.
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
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