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Rage Against The Machine - No, Not That Machine

  This post has nothing to do with the famous Rock band , but rather the controversial  production of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen by the Metropolitan opera which has recently been presenting  in full after the gradual unveiling of the four part operatic marathon beginning last season .

  The so-called "machine" is the production's enormous unit set, which consists largely of massive metal planks which constantly shift shape across the stage to represent  the different lanscapes of the action , and which combine with  computer-generated  images onstage ,enabling  the stage to portray the many  extravagant special effects which the composer Richard Wagner imagined but was never able to realize adequately with the promitive scenic technology of the 19th century , and which are difficult enough to realize in the present day .

  Such fanciful images include the flying horses which the Valkyries, or daughters of the god Wotan  use to carry the bodies of slain heroes to Valhalla,  a huge dragon which the evil giant Fafner has become after using a magic helmet to transform himself into in order to guard the magic gold of the Rhine,  and so forth .  Such special effects could best be realized on film , as in  the Lord of the Rings saga , which superficially resembles Wagner's  magnum opus .

   The director is the renowned French Canadian director Robert Lepage of Cirque du Soleil , yet his production has come in for an unusual amount of critical drubbing by most of the New York critics who have reviewed as well as many from out of town .  Some have dismissed the multi-million dollar production as the worst they have ever seen of the mighty Ring, and  deplore it as a massive waste of money , calling for it to be scrapped as soon as possible .

  Even the usually benign  Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times jas had serious reservatipons about the whole affair, and the Met's general manager Peter  Gelb has  become highly defensive , even  trying to  censor some of the critical  snark  on the Met's website and  WQXR, New York's only  surviving classical radio station .

   There have been complaints about the noisiness of the massive metal planks as they move around the Met's enormoyus stage , largest of any opera house in the world ,  and accusations that Lepage has failed to do dramatic justice to the huge operatic cycle and a lack of any real dramatic concept .  There have also been a number of technical glitches during performances , causing certain dramatic effects to fall flat . Bu taccording to reports from the Met's administration, these glitches have been largely worked out .

   Not having seen the production yet, I will have to withhold judgement, and more than a few audience members have been much more favorabey disposed to it .  However, as far as I can tell, it does not seem to be anywhere near as perverse and wrong-headed as any of the so-called "Eurotrash" productions of the Ring and other Wagner operas which are currently th enorm in Europe , and which are full of all manner of ridiculous arbitrary gimmicks and anachronistic sets and costumes .  The recent Ring by the San Francosco opera sets the action in the 19th century American wild west ! 

   Typically, you will see the supreme Teutonic god Wotan dressed in modern day clothing yet still carrying the spear which he does throughout the Ring , as well as the  other gods , the superheroes Siegmund and his son Siegried , and the Valkiries .  The first part of the Ring, Das Rheingold, or the Rhine gold, opens in the river Rhine where you find the Rhine maidens ,who guard the magic gold of the Rhine cavorting . Yet the  Bayreuth centennial production of the Ring in 1976 and which is regarded as the granddaddy of Europtrash Wagner productions, had the curtain opening on a  hydro-electric  dam  instead of the Rhine, and the Rhine maidens were dressed as hookers ! 

   More recent Rings in Europe have gone far beyond  this in ourtrageousness .  The Met's previous Ring , which set the action in Wagner's own  mythical Germanic  world  and which  was premiered in the mid 1980s, was also  sneered at by many critics ,  yet  audiences loved it on the whole .  No gimmicks, no pretrentiousness at all . 

    All this just go to show you that so many of the critics who review the Met's productions are extremely captious carpers who never seem to be satisfied by any production there .  They hate the lavish realistic sets and costumes of operas by Verdi and Puccini at the Met by the renowned  Franco Zeffirelli , such as Tosca, la Boheme and La Traviata .  Yet, a couplle of years ago, when the Met replaced the  sumptuous realiistic Zeffirellli Tosca, an opera set in Rome at actual Roman locations, and which represents those locations  exactly  with a  much more austere and drab-looking  production, they hated it  too . 

   They complained about the austere -looking sets of the Met's recent production of Donizetti's Anna Bolena (Anne Boleyn ) . Yet if the production had been  sumptous and elaborate, they would have hated it also .  Let's face it ; the Met is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn't .  Like it or not, the "machine" seems here to stay for quite a while .

Posted: May 08 2012, 08:07 PM by the horn | with no comments
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