Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: Wagner's Dream

By David Salazar

During the course of the next few weeks, the Met will rescreen is famous (or infamous for those who have read my reviews) new Ring Cycle in movie theaters around the world. To kick off the cycle, the new making-of documentary "Wagner's Dream" saw its first major screening around the world (the film had made a debut screening at the Tribeca Film Festival).

The documentary in many ways succeeds where the actual production that it details fails. It is riveting, multifaceted, and rich in its content, scope, and the story that it sets out to tell. Whereas the production tends to be a rigid, flat, and consistently lacking in personality, this documentary more than makes up for it with wit and insight. After watching the film, I felt something that I hadn't felt while watching the actual production at the Met: I was rooting for the production to succeed. And I actually had some affinity for Met Manager Peter Gelb and Director Robert LePage. 

We watch as the planks take form from tiny models to the 90,000 pound monster it eventually becomes. We get a look at the original plans for the planks and then watch as LePage and crew learn of its limitations. The production team's frustrations become our frustrations.

Moments of peril and wit ensue as first bass Hans-Peter Konig complains about a loose plank and the team rushes to reassure him. The scene is capped by Konig's witty "there are not many good basses left in the world, so you have to protect me." Later on, soprano Deborah Voigt falls off the set as she attempts to mount it (I was actually at the performance). 

When the production malfunctions, director Susan Froemke captures the frustration of LePage, Met General Manager Peter Gelb, and the rest of the technical crew that we have witnessed working hard to put the entire process together. My original response back in October 2010 to the news of the malfunction was laughter; watching this documentary, I was utterly saddened. 

One can only imagine the depth of footage that Froemke might have accumulated during this two year process  and it certainly comes to no surprise that a great wealth of major players in the Ring Cycle (most notably conductors James Levine and Fabio Luisi) get little to no screen time. However, the detailed coverage of soprano Deborah Voight's journey through her first Brunhilde was greatly appreciated. Voight has recently taken up the role of hostess for many of the Met's Live in HD broadcasts with her jovial  and warm personality. There should be no dout that she gained some new supporters and fans with this documentary. Same goes for Jay Hunter Morris in his limited exposure. It would  certainly have been nice to see other casts members, but there might be a reason (aside from obvious time constraints) that they may have been omitted. 

The end of the film felt a tad bit rushed as the filmmakers closed out the cycle with lessening insight, but it was nice to see an intricate examination of the pain-staking process that could be opera. This is definitely a journey that both Wagnerites, opera lovers, and even Anti-Wagnerians, and non-opera folk should watch. For the uninitiated, it certainly will wet your appetite to see this production and for those who have seen it and have their fully formed opinions, it will certainly endear you in the slightest to the figures behind it.


  1. I wish the documentary could have been 4 hours long! It is really one of the best music documentaries I have seen. David, I hope you will see the encore HD broadcasts starting tonight to get a different perspective on this incredible production. Here is my comment made on the Facebook Met Opera page --

    Just returned from seeing "Wagner's Dream." It was a great documentary giving us a glimpse into all the blood, sweat and tears it took to bring the new amazing and fantastic Ring production into fruition. Thank you Peter Gelb and Robert LePage and to everyone who worked on this mammoth production. In the documentary Gelb said it best that if opera does not change it will die. The last Met Ring was an ultra traditional production which was also great. Gelb knew it was time for a change. This production while looking modern (the machine) actually projects traditional aspects of the opera -- water, fire, trees, etc. The Met has managed to progress to something new without creating a Euro-trash production. (I just saw a photo of last year's production of Lohengrin at the Bayreuth Festival -- everyone was dressed as rats!) God awful! I have seen the 4 operas live in HD and I look forward to seeing the encore performances.

  2. Thank you Hood. I will try to catch some of them if I can in the theaters. On screen there is certainly a bigger sense of awe that was not quite captured in the hall. BUt at least the casts were top notch and will be available for repeat viewings on DVD!