When Richard Wagner wrote his Ring Cycle, did he dream of a giant steel machine twisting and sliding on stage?
Probably not. But the Metropolitan Opera, with its ambitious $16 million production of the four operas that make up the cycle, has merged Wagner's music with modern technology. "Wagner's Dream," a new documentary directed by Susan Froemke, follows the Met as it deals with the technical and musical challenges of mounting Wagner's masterwork.
The Ring Cycle has long been one of the more difficult operas to stage. In 2010, the L.A. Opera's effort to put up the complete cycle left the company with a $5.96 million deficit.
The operas of the Ring -- "Das Rheingold," "Die Walkure," "Siegfried" and "Gotterdammerung" -- each run at a length of about four hours, and are filled with long stretches of difficult vocal passages as well as a bevy of fantastical plot elements (including flying horses, magic fires, underwater settings). Even Wagner, while still writing the Ring, feared that he might have trespassed into "the unstageable and the unsingable."
To stage the unstageable, Met director Robert Lepage turned to resources Wagner would have had trouble imagining in 1876, using a massive 45-ton set composed of 24 planks upon which videos are projected. This contraption, often referred to simply as "the machine," has not been without controversy. Since it it first debuted in the 2010-2011 season, it has suffered technical misfires, been blamed for making distracting noises and caused bodily injuries.
Froemke followed the Met as it worked on the production over the last four years, documenting the creative processes driving the show, the backstage struggles with the machine, and more. Soprano Deborah Voigt, who plays Brunhilde, also features in the film. It's not Froemke's first time dealing with the classical world. Alongside a handful of films featuring subjects like pianist Vladimir Horowitz and conductor Seiji Ozawa (co-produced with Met general manager Peter Gelb, at the time the head of Sony Classical), she also directed the 2009 documentary, "The Audition," which went backstage at the Met's National Council Auditions, one of the most prominent competitions for young opera singers in the country.
While the Met will stage the full Ring Cycle from April into May, "Wagner's Dream" will screen at the TriBeCa Film Festival in New York, which runs from April 18 to April 29. The film will also be in theaters in May, in conjunction with the live HD screenings of the production itself.
Watch a trailer for "Wagner's Dream" below: