After years of conceptualizing and design work, thousands of hours of construction and stage labor, many tons of fiberglass and steel, risks taken and won, behind-the-scenes dramas, artistic triumphs, and a few inevitable mishaps, our new production of Wagner's Ring looms ready for its final tests: the premiere of Götterdämmerung on Jan. 27 followed by complete cycles in April and May.
Little did I realize when I approached Robert Lepage six years ago to invite him to direct a new Ring that we would be unleashing the most challenging production in the history of the Met. With its 90,000-pound set (fondly dubbed "The Machine" by our stage crew) and computerized scenery that, in rehearsal, transforms the auditorium of the Met into what looks like a high-tech control room, this Ring has taken over our lives and not let go. But boy, has it been worth it.
The Ring has become an example of what an opera company can do to change its character from careful to bold. Our new Ring is a symbol of a Met that embraces theatrical invention while honoring the great musical traditions of the past. Of course, because our Ring is revolutionary, not everyone supports it. Some think we should never have abandoned the handsome previous production of Otto Schenk, even though, after more than 20 years, it was time to replace it. Others think a new Ring should be filled with abstract ideas and images, in contrast to the more faithful telling of the story that Lepage has chosen.
I strongly believe in Lepage's literal but imaginative approach. And it's apparent that most of our audience has been stimulated by what they've seen and heard so far, too: the discovery of Eric Owens as a great Alberich; Bryn Terfel's towering performance as Wotan; the triumphant role debut of Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund; the important Met debut of Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde; Stephanie Blythe's fierce and sensitive portrayal of Fricka; our impressive giants; and Rhinemaidens and Valkyries who appear to swim and fly. Deborah Voigt has heroically made her role debut in this production in the most difficult soprano part ever composed. Then there is what just might be the most impressive casting miracle of recent time in Jay Hunter Morris, who was selling roller blades just a few years ago, but who overnight has become a definitive Siegfried. We've also suffered the incalculable loss, for the time being, of James Levine, but we've enjoyed the extraordinary good fortune of having Fabio Luisi take the reins in Levine's place.
At an opera house of our size, there are often backstage exigencies that rival the drama that takes place on our stage. But whatever happens off the stage, we stay focused on channeling all of our energy into what takes place on it. Hopefully, with the completion of the cycles, this Ring will stand out as one of the Met's greatest feats. One thing is for certain: when the season ends with the final performance of Götterdämmerung, we will experience the operatic equivalent of empty-nest syndrome, as the massive set is packed up and moved out of the opera house.