John Terauds reviews the MET's Wagner’s Dream

Written By The Wagnerian on Thursday, 3 May 2012 | 9:04:00 pm

It’s safe to say that no opera production in modern times has created as much buzz and controversy as Robert Lepage’s $16 million, high-tech extravaganza Ring Cycle.

Metropolitan Opera general director Peter Gelb put not only his own career, but pretty much the fate of his whole, storied company on the line to make this happen. And famed Canadian director Lepage admits he had no idea what he was doing when he accepted the job.

It’s a high-stakes gamble that filmmaker Susan Froemke has captured in all of its breast-plate-and-spear glory in a two-hour documentary that has as many hair-raising, stomach-churning moments as a ride on Wonderland’s new Leviathan.

Wagner’s Dream, which screens on Monday as a prelude to four live, HD broadcasts from the Met to cinemas around the world of composer Richard Wagner’s full Ring of the Nibelung cycle, remarkably captures every salient detail of this crazy ride.

From wooden models in Lepage’s Quebec City workshop to the final curtain on the first performance of Götterdämmerung, the final opera in the cycle, no twist is left unexplored.

You don’t have to be an opera fan to appreciate the complexity of the massive set of turning wooden slats that are also home to video projections, acrobats and singers.

It is like seeing Peter Jackson’s over-the-top Lord of the Rings brought to the opera stage, but with better music
We see Lepage and his crew trying to actually make the 90,000-pound, computer-controlled monster, nicknamed The Machine, work properly. We get a clear sense of Gelb’s frayed nerves as glitch upon glitch piles up before the first dress rehearsal.

We witness the sheer terror on the faces of the Rhine Maidens when they realize that they will swim suspended above the stage, as a massive platform rotates under their feet.

We can collectively gasp as soprano Deborah Voigt, this production’s heroic Brünhilde, misses a singing leap on the treacherous set, falls flat on her face — and doesn’t miss a note.

And we can marvel at the sheer collective force of will that has an army of stagehands in blackout costumes make all the stuff of theatrical magic happen with split-second timing, while the handsomely suited and coiffed audience sits serenely in the gilded opera house.

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