What’s Opera Doc?

Wagner’s THE RING stands on its own. There is nothing in the world of the art that it can be measured against! Yes, even Beethoven’s 9th and Mahler’s 5th, even Othello and Boris Godunov shy away from this unprecedented artistic giant. The only wonder of the world I can compare it with is the Great Wall of China or Taj Mahal. The Ring of the Nibelung is a cycle of four epic operas, in sequence: The Rhine Gold, The Valkyrie, Siegfried and Twilight of the Gods. Wagner created it from the ground up, starting with the story, then libretto, totally new musical language, unheard of orchestration. There are no arias or recitatives; there is no familiar opera structure. The story dictates the flow. The music becomes a canvas intertwined with the leitmotivs of people and subjects and emotions, even the sword has it’s own leitmotiv! These leitmotifs are full-blooded characters of the story and a major pain for music students who have to take endless tests on them as a part of Musicology courses. I remember those joyful years…

I always knew one day, when I grew up, I would go to some faraway opera theater; let’s say Bayreuth Theater, camp there for a long time and see THE RING. I have seen bits and pieces here and there and love the music. Although individual operas of the sequence are sometimes performed separately, Wagner intended them to be performed in series. I thought that it is embarrassing for a professional musician not to sit through the entire Ring at least once in a lifetime. I love opera, do not get me wrong, have seen a lot of European and American productions, I am a subscriber to the Houston Grand Opera and am a big fan of Live in HD. Rob and I saw a lot of great productions from the Met, my favorite theater ever. But 16 hours of Wagner!!!!!! I was getting ready to get ready for psyching up to it. Wagner’s THE RING was hanging over my head like a mighty sword that one day would have to come. I was dreading the inevitable.

KLRN has presented THE RING from the Met, in the comfort of my bedroom for four nights in a row and totally unexpectedly. I did not even have time to contemplate to see or not to see! I knew this was my chance to pay my dues and see THE RING. Just in case it would become intolerable I had the remote set up for Chopped on the Food channel, just in case you know … it would get too heavy and too dark and too boring. I got comfortable in my bed and turned KLRN on. To my dismay, I did not see Chopped that first night, I missed Master Top Chef on the second day, Extreme Chef on a third night. I could not stop watching, I was longing for a commercial break so I could quickly run to the restroom without missing anything. The staging, the voices, the music, the acting, my favorite Levine! This production bursts in creativity, it marries visual art and movie and singing and technology and everything! I loved the continuously moving sculpture! How cool is this! Wagner would go nuts if he saw it!

In the mystical world where gods casually stop by just to plant another intrigue, and women are the wearers and the greatest punishment to the Valkyrie is to be by the man and serve his needs and the great love between brother and sister is okay and healthy baby of them rescues his aunt and falls in love with her. This is the world where animals and humans (sorry, gods and semigods) speak the same language. Dragons can become a giant and a giant looks just like a Japanese sumo wrestler, not scary at all, I would even go farther and say he was sort of sweet. This is the world where the heavens and mountains and forests and caves and underworld all seem to function together just fine. In the production characters interact with nature projected by the holograms; the forest is filled with moving creatures, water reacts to a touch. The set, the background is so captivating by itself that it is not possible to stop watching! It is even unfair to the singers, who effortlessly sing the most difficult parts EVER. Siegfried is an amazing tenor from Texas who they found at the last minute to replace the one who was originally scheduled and got sick. How it is even possible! How can you find someone who can sing SIEGFRIED in a blink of an eye and this great!!!

Ken Howard, tenor from Texas as Siegfried

Ken Howard, tenor from Texas, as Siegfried

A few years ago Rob and I were in Miami on vacation and we decided to see Romeo and Juliet by Charles Gounod Live from the Met in HD at a local movie theater. The theater was pretty packed with older couples. Juliette was Anna Netrepko and Romeo was Roberto Alagna, needless to say that production was spectacular! The second act starts with the bedroom scene when Romeo and Juliette in suggestive outfits, in a bed that hung from the ceiling. You could see Juliette’s naked parts of the body strategically placed for a viewer to enjoy, sometimes a part of her shoulder, sometime her leg, seductively intrigued you from slowly descending bed. Half way through the opera something went wrong with the transmission … and the sound stopped. To our dismay the public even did not think of leaving. Both gentlemen and ladies were glued to the screen with their mouth open. Opera made it to an R-rating for erotic content, CONGRATULATIONS!

Opera has proved its livability because it changes. I do remember times when in Bolshoi Theater we would see long productions with BIG SOPRANOS not moving much to say the least, situated in the middle of a period set that did not move at all. Although the music was always great and singing was okay most of the time, opera became old and boring. I think it is very smart to apply the latest in technology to opera staging, I think it is very smart to make it all move and capture our attention. It does not take away from music it adds to it, it makes opera comparable in the market that the world is. The Met was the first one to start Live in HD, they popularized opera this way and they make it accessible. Nowadays opera has to compete with live TV, movies, the Internet, iPhones, iPod’s and it is just the beginning. Metropolitan Opera has figured out that the SHOW should be entertaining or it will cease to exist and they lead the way in the world opera revolution.