NEW YORK (Reuters) - It’s the most anticipated new production at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in years, but this time the eyes are on the high-tech scenery rather than the world-class singers.
The $15 million production of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold, that will span out into a full cycle of Wagner’s “Ring” operas over several years, was met with cheers and standing applause coupled with a few scattered boos at a gala opening on Monday.
Seen as part of the Met’s bid to attract a broader and younger audience, the opera’s technical centerpiece is a rack of 24 joined tall fiberglass planks which can twist and spin over 360 degrees, and rise and fall as the story beckons.
The production began with three Rhine maidens hoisted high into the air by suspension cables off the planks, which were constantly bathed in changing, intricately-designed projections and lighting.
Top Canadian theater director Robert Lepage, who has worked on such mass appeal productions as Cirque du Soleil, told Reuters that Rheingold’s special effects were delicately balanced so as to not take away from the singing.
“People will recognize an aesthetic that is very close to the early productions of Wagner, and at the same time ground-breaking technology and ahead of the curve avant-garde vocabularies,” he said.
The much-hyped technical wizardry also includes video images of pebbles that interacted with the singers on stage, moving when they moved.
“Technology allows images, scenic images to be in sync with what it is that is going on stage,” Lepage said before quipping, “but it’s not the “Avatar” of opera, it’s not that simple.”
An opening night glitch involving the 90,000 pound set muted Wagner’s triumphant ending: rather then crossing the rainbow bridge to Valhalla, the performers simply walked off the stage.
Critical reaction to the production, which featured bass-baritones Bryn Terfel and Eric Owens and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, has been largely positive, though some critics faulted it for at times highlighting special effects.
The Guardian wrote that “with a few qualifications, it was a triumph,” while New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini said the production was well balanced.
“For the most part it was an impressive success: an inventive, fluid staging and a feat of technological wizardry that employs sophisticated video elements without turning into a video show,” Tommasini wrote.
The Met’s general manager Peter Gelb, who has been pushing to attract new opera goers in a bid to boost sales, told Reuters the production showed an emphasis on “acting in a more sophisticated, contemporary style.”
“In the same way that movies today don’t look like they did 40 years ago, or 20 years ago, operas today can’t look like they did 30-40 years ago,” he said.
Monday night’s performance was broadcast live directly outside the theater and in New York’s Times Square on giant screens and will be later shown in movie theaters around the nation as part of the opera’s “The Met:Live in HD” series.
Met Opera music director and Rheingold’s conductor James Levine was helped onto the stage by Blythe for one of the night’s biggest ovations.
But not everyone was happy. As the audience filed out, one opera lover, who did not wish to be named said, “As long as you are an acrobat, it was great.”
Additional reporting by Phil Wahba and Edith Honan, editing by Jill Serjeant