Another Ring to rule them all

by Andrea Elizabeth

The reviews for the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Wagner’s The Ring Cycle were largely negative because of the “gargantuan” distraction of the set, dubbed, “The Machine”. If you missed the PBS broadcast of all 15 hours plus ‘the making of’ this week, here is a clip of The Machine in action. (or for pc, here)

The distraction was due to its slippery steepness which opera singers, unlike Cirque du Soleil performers, whom the set designer previously designed for, aren’t used to navigating. Everyone becomes nervous for them, including the director.

But I find the high tech projections upon the LCD screen type surface and it’s piano hammer movements pretty mesmerizing. I’m not that familiar with The Ring Cycle, except for the famous icon of the fat lady with Viking horns and breastplate, and the clips on the Excalibur soundtrack, and I probably wouldn’t have sat through the 3 or 4 hours I had occasion to make it through if it weren’t for the set. It was enough to make me want to study the plot more and perhaps listen to the whole thing some time. Since I haven’t yet, I won’t pursue what to make of the incestuous relationship in it.

I’ll instead mention our expectations of safety. It is ok to display controlled danger in entertainment. We can stand it as long as we know the actors and Atlanta aren’t really getting burned. We can also accept a margin of error concerning the safety of stuntmen, as long as no more than a few per 5 years or so don’t get killed or seriously injured. Stuntmen and gymnasts accept that risk. It’s in their contract. Unexpected accidents among the artists who are supposed to be protected is what makes us uncomfortable. But in this day and age where opera houses struggle to make it, can the artists afford to keep their prima donna safety net? Maybe they need to accept that in the modern techno, translate-to-the-small-screen world, they now have to be able to compete with indestructible computer generated images, or else start dubbing for them.

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