A Robotic Wagner Ring Cycle in Hartford

The Valkyries. Wanna hear them without an orchestra? Go to Hartford!(Photo: William Heinemann)
The Valkyries. Wanna hear them without an orchestra? Go to Hartford!(Photo: William Heinemann)

UPDATE: As of this afternoon it is reported that this production has been cancelled.

From the Hartford Wagner Festival web site:

“It is with great sadness that we must announce that the 2014 production of “Das Rheingold” has been postponed until next year, due to the vicious and coordinated attacks on the Hartford Wagner Festival by The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) which has forced he resignation of our Music Director and two of our performances with loss of future work”.


I’m surprised it took so long.

Several months ago The Hartford Wagner Festival announced a long-term project to present the four massive operas making up Wagner Ring Cycle, The Ring of the Nibelungen. Productions of the Ring require a huge and accomplished orchestra, men’s chorus, large stages and the very rare great Wagner singers. The Metropolitan Opera’s current production uses one large mechanized set for all four operas. There are stunning visual effects, but the entire Robert Lepage conceived megillah has been a favorite punching bag for the musical press (yes, such press still exists) for the past two years. Dubbed “The Machine” this Met production is so large that the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center had to be structurally reinforced.

Get it? Wagner’s Ring. Huge, expensive and difficult. Audiences world over eat it up. Produce a compelling Wagner Ring cycle with glamorous singers and a great conductor and you’ll be in clover with ticket sales, hotels, meals, tax revenue. Wagner might have been a horror as a man, but he remains good for business.

So we come to Hartford. Charles M. Goldstein is a Connecticut based musician-impresario. His dream is to establish an annual Wagner Festival in the nutmeg state, modeled on Wagner’s own Bayreuth Festspiele in Germany. Mr. Goldstein is not the first to make such plans and he won’t be the last. The difference is Mr. Goldstein doesn’t want to use an orchestra or a conductor. He’s come up with a digitized orchestra using synthesizers. No orchestra, no conductor, minimal sets and some fine singers.

These plans were announced months ago. Only last week did the ire of musicians unions go public (and postal). Broadway shows with phony orchestras planned have been picketed. Musicians are being put out of work. Whatever you feel about opera, if anything, its true that Wagner without an orchestra is like a , well, it’s impossible. It would be like listening on an 8 volt transistor radio.

A nasty letter from one Mark Brandfonbrenner, cellist for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, was e blasted to musicians. “Participation in this monstrous concept for a digital orchestra is being communicated to every opera orchestral musician in this country.” This has been taken to mean your colleagues will stick it to you if you sing for this ersatz production.

Tenor Robert Brubaker has resigned from the cast. He knew what he signed on for. I’m not aware yet of other resignations. If this show proceeds I expect pickets and more threats. You do not mess with Local 802. Synthesized Wagner is not better than no Wagner at all, because without the orchestra there IS NO WAGNER.  Were I a musician I would resent Mr. Branfonbrenner’s tone and implied threats. Were I M.r Goldstein I’d save my money and so see the Ring in Wagner’s  Theater in Bayreuth, Germany. Still, I am thinking of attending the first installment in Hartford, Das Rheingold August 8, 9 and 10. Hopefully my car nor my corpus will be pelted with eggs.