PRODS Susan Froemke, Douglas Graves
CAM Don Lenzer
ED Bob Eisenhardt
PROD CO Susan Froemke Productions
Complete with soprano spillage, dangling Rhinemaidens, frayed tempers and frozen computers, Susan Froemke’s fly-on-the-wall study of a glitch-filled, controversial opera production has more suspense and drama than any ten reality shows. In taking on Wagner’s titanic Ring Cycle, superstar Canadian theatre director Robert Lepage should have known what he was getting into. The logistical requirements alone—16 hours of musical drama, four stories over four nights, dragons, Rhinemaidens, tenors, carpenters, etc.—are staggering. But directors of Wagner’s cycle must also come to terms with re-interpreting for contemporary audiences a work tainted by the composer’s anti-Semitism and powerful associations with Hitler and Nazism.
New stagings of the work are expected to take all of this on board and more, and radical re-interpretation has become the norm. Lepage’s bold solution is to design a special stage—nicknamed (without affection) “the machine”—with interlocking wooden elements that shift to create new spaces, from the bottom of the Rhine to the ruins of Valhalla. This structure, which recalls at different times the world’s biggest game of Jenga and a Rubik’s cube, is elegant in action but terrifying to work with—watching the statuesque soprano Deborah Voigt wipe out and somehow bounce back is only the most impressive moment of doughty professionalism in this revealing (if sometimes nerve-wracking) film. Wagner ain’t for wimps.