We have received a press release from the Hartford [CT] Wagner Festival, announcing a new production of Das Rheingold in August 2014 at the Roberts Theater of the Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford, CT. The plan is to mount one drama each summer and to present two complete Ring Cycles each year beginning in 2017.
Several aspects of the plan are noteworthy. One is that, although two conductors are named (Doris Lang Kosloff and Charles M. Goldstein), the production will feature “a state-of-the-art Digital Orchestra.” Created by Mr. Goldstein, the Digital Orchestra is not otherwise described or explained, and a Google search for Mr. Goldstein comes up bare. Nevertheless, just as Wagner himself created instruments and stage effects that had not existed because his story needed them, so the Hartford Wagner Festival seems to be treading in the Master’s footsteps.
Another odd aspect of the press release is its mistaken setting of the context of the project. It says:
Until now, the only two places in the world that you could see Wagner’s “Ring” every year were in Seattle, Washington and Bayreuth, Germany. Hartford, CT will now become the third location where the Cycle can be seen on a yearly basis.
It is troubling that the folks behind this ambitious project seem unaware that, in fact, the Ring is seen only periodically at Seattle and Bayreuth, and that no house produces the Ring every year. (At least as far as I know….)
Still, I am a great believer in going where the action is and supporting new and ambitious productions of this great work. The stage director of this production is Jonathon Field, head of Oberlin’s Opera Department (whose web page says he will be directing Walküre, not Rheingold, in 2014). I fully intend to be there and enjoy whatever show they decide to mount. Tickets go on sale March 1 (according to the press release) or March 15 (according to the web site), and I will nab a few. While there, I plan to visit Mark Twain’s house and museum, located in Hartford, and ponder the wisdom of his precautions on seeing Parsifal in Bayreuth:
The entire overture, long as it was, was played to a dark house with the curtain down. It was exquisite; it was delicious. But straightway thereafter, or course, came the singing, and it does seem to me that nothing can make a Wagner opera absolutely perfect and satisfactory to the untutored but to leave out the vocal parts. I wish I could see a Wagner opera done in pantomime once. Then one would have the lovely orchestration unvexed to listen to and bathe his spirit in, and the bewildering beautiful scenery to intoxicate his eyes with, and the dumb acting couldn’t mar these pleasures, because there isn’t often anything in the Wagner opera that one would call by such a violent name as acting; as a rule all you would see would be a couple of silent people, one of them standing still, the other catching flies. Of course I do not really mean that he would be catching flies; I only mean that the usual operatic gestures which consist in reaching first one hand out into the air and then the other might suggest the sport I speak of if the operator attended strictly to business and uttered no sound.
KARAOKE WAGNER. NO THANKS. I’m quite sure the master is turning over in his grave…I go to Bayreuth every summer.
At http://wagnerct.com/das-rheingold-news.html we are given a cast list which includes a Fricka and a Fafner… One wonders whether to believe the site (above) selling tickets, or conductor Field’s remark (noted above) that he’ll be conducting Walkure.
When I first saw the ad in “Opera News”, I became excited. A Ring cycle only 100 miles from where I live! This would be our 20th complete ring cycle! Alas, I looked at the website and discovered a digitally conceived cycle in a small auditorium (no orchestra) with hours of projections which, by now, are old hat. I hope I can be convinced to part with $200 for 2 tickets to the Cycle, but I must investigate further.
I’d like to read you suggestions and ideas.
I recently heard about this “karaoke Wagner” and have to agree with el’s comment above. Below is a comment I left on the Hartford Wagner Festival’s Facebook page:
“I understand that Mr. Goldstein has taken 15 years to transcribe each of the 137,000 measures of Then Ring into his computer, using a sampling database (perhaps the Vienna Symphonic Library, which many composers and recording artists use if they do not have access to real musicians or the funds to hire them). Some of the Vienna Philharmonic musicians may or may not have contributed to this library.
I am impressed with Mr. Goldstein’s undertaking, as The Ring is such a monumental work. It is my guess that he is a huge fan of Wagner and that his dream has been to bring a Ring Cycle to his home town for all to enjoy. This is to be commended. Everyone should have access to this incredible music.
However, the way Mr. Goldstein is going about bringing this music to the masses is seriously misguided. That he has proficient computer skills and can input samples of instruments into a program does not equal The Ring. It does not even come close.
Another commenter on this page (one of the comments that was NOT deleted by the Facebook page manager), Reinhold Behringer, says he does “not quite understand why people are so upset about a digital orchestra. I am using such technology since more than a decade to create music recordings, and they are musically as valid as any “real” recording.” I went to Mr. Behringer’s page and listened to a few of his digitally created renditions of several works, including Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings and the Andante Moderato from Mahler’s 6th Symphony. What I heard was cold and passionless, perhaps technically “perfect” and dynamically in line with what the composer wanted, but I would never buy these “recordings” for they lack what music is: human emotion.
I realize these libraries and music samples are used all the time in popular music, video games, and even movie scores, but it has the same effect: leaving the listener without a sense of life, of the living and breathing nuances which is what music is all about. If used for an effect, it’s one thing, but when used to replace what the composer had intended… well that’s another issue altogether. That some people don’t see a difference, or don’t hear a difference, is quite sad to me. Perhaps Mr. Goldstein and Mr. Behringer do not have the musical training that most orchestral musicians have, so they simply do not understand. I also think that the public in general has grown accustomed to hearing a certain technical “perfection” from what they hear on the radio, thanks to auto tune. But that is not perfection to me. Perfection is found in the nuances, the slight differences in a persons voice or instrument that varies from day to day due to the weather, the health of the singer/player, and yes, in the mistakes that people make. This is exciting. This what makes us human, and what connects us to one another. This is what music is.
If Mr. Goldstein wanted to show off his digital proficiency and talents and hear The Ring *his* way, perhaps he could have staged a reading with singers and be done with it. But to say that “the Vienna Philharmonic” is your orchestra and also (quoting from the Hartford Wagner Festival website here) that “Until now, the only place in the world that you could see Wagner’s “Ring” every year was in and Bayreuth, Germany. Hartford, CT will now become the second location where the Cycle can be seen on a yearly basis” is just wrong and a great insult to Bayreuth, Wagner, the Vienna Philharmonic, and any musician or Wagnerphile who lives and breathes this music – or any music created and performed by human beings.
If this “festival” succeeds, there will still only be one place to seeThe Ring every year. And that place will be Bayreuth, Germany.”
I visited Goldstein’s web site and listened to the virtual Mahler transcriptions he did. It was awful. This man is wasting our time.
I had planned to attend, but this was cancelled a few weeks ago due to artist’s cancellations, which in turn were due to threats from an opera orchestra musician in Chicago.
Critics can’t have it both ways: (1) it sounds absolutely terrible, and (2) it poses a threat to orchestra musicians.