You can’t accuse filmmaker Susan Frömke of lacking transparency: In her documentary about the making of director Robert Lepage’s elaborate, controversial staging of Der Ring des Nibelungen at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the objective is clear from opening shots of teaser ads being plastered in subways and on buses. Simply put, this behind-the-scenes peek is meant to sell the heroic risks and titanic achievements of Lepage and Met general manager Peter Gelb in a manner befitting Wagner’s quixotic vision.
“The quest to produce a perfect Ring remains opera’s greatest challenge,” claims one caption—but that’s nonsense. Canonical works reveal their depths through interpretation, for which Lepage substitutes literalism and flashy but problematic technology. To its credit, Wagner’s Dream includes revealing footage of Promethean labors undertaken by cast and crew, misfires included. (Glimpses of soprano Lisette Oropesa’s abject horror at being dangled above the set by a cable say more than all the talking heads combined.) Still, it’s shocking that Met music director James Levine, an esteemed Wagnerian forced by illness and injury to withdraw halfway through the production, is invisible until a full 50 minutes into the film—and then never speaks to the camera. Audience members express skepticism early on; oddly enough, by the end, most have become converts. The fix, it becomes clear, is meant to be in.
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