Wagner's Dream comes true

Red carpet coverage of the World Premiere for Wagner's Dream and post-screening commentary on the Tribeca Talk panel.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Filmmakers Susan Froemke and Bob Eisenhardt, opera soprano Deborah Voigt and tenor Jay Hunter Morris, Met's General Manager Peter Gelb on the red carpet

Wagner's Dream, the film about the opera cycle about "reaching the unattainable", is clearly one of the best movies in Tribeca 2012. The film's scope and clarity and joy will make people curious about opera who never had a dream about Wagner in their lives and who now have a chance to "mingle with the gods".

On Wednesday The Tribeca Film Festival held the World Premiere of Susan Froemke's spectacular documentary Wagner's Dream with a star-studded list of red carpet arrivals.

For perhaps the most ambitious project in its famed history, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned visionary director Robert Lepage to stage a new production of opera's most formidable masterpiece: Richard Wagner's four-part Ring Cycle. Shot over five years, Susan Froemke's documentary captures the unprecedented challenges of bringing Lepage's electrifying production to life. Featuring such opera luminaries as Deborah Voigt, the film is a rare and engrossing look at the artistic process.

On the red carpet:

I chatted with the director, her editor Bob Eisenhardt, Metropolitan Opera's General Manager Peter Gelb, and the two stars of Robert Lepage's brand new staging of Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen at the Met, Deborah Voigt and Jay Hunter Morris.

Deborah Voigt, who plays Brünnhilde
Deborah Voigt, who plays Brünnhilde

I asked Deborah Voigt about her "Ring" of movies, all-time favorites, because Tribeca is all about film. "I love Clark Gable," she answered, "so I would have to say Gone With The Wind. And The Sound Of Music. I always wanted to be Maria." Now, she is Brünnhilde, one of the most stimulating and testing roles for a soprano, in the new Ring at the Met. Robert Lepage's 90,000-pound set, lovingly called "The Machine", is one of the stars of the film and physically very challenging for the performers. I asked Deborah Voigt, who has to climb and ride and sing on it, if she developed any new muscles. She laughed and confided that she is very stiff; the astonishing visuals come with a price. "Do we have to sing and fly?", one anxious Rhine Maiden asks in the movie.

Jay Hunter Morris, the new Ring's new Siegfried, was quite bouncy on the red carpet. Neither he nor Deborah had seen the film yet and both admitted to being a bit nervous. Having the cameras follow him around during rehearsals and performances was no big deal for the tenor, he said. "When you have to sing for five hours, you don't really care about anything else." When asked about his movie favorites, he responded with The Usual Suspects, not a very Wagnerian choice. "I'm not a very operatic kind of guy, as you can see," he said to me with a big smile in his soothing Paris,Texan accent. I don't really know what that means, but his delivery is so charming that you believe anything he says, or sings. "The first Siegfried that isn't annoying," one audience member complimented him, after the screening. His inspiration for the role of this naïve, very childlike Wagner hero, who doesn't know what fear is, came from his 3 year-old son: "I used my boy Cooper as fuel."

Following the premiere screening, the illustrious panel consisting of the filmmakers with Peter Gelb and the two stars of Robert Lepage's Ring des Nibelungen at the Met, Deborah Voigt and Jay Hunter Morris, was greeted with an enthusiastic response from the Festival audience.

On our way into the theater for the screening of Wagner's Dream:

Jay Hunter Morris, who plays Siegfried
Jay Hunter Morris, who plays Siegfried

The filmmakers, Susan Froemke and editor Bob Eisenhardt, both emphasised that the entire project was about "taking risks". Everyone involved took on the enormous challenges and the film does show the failures as well as the victories. When I called her film "unusually democratic" by giving an equal amount of room to ushers, stagehands, mechanics, and wardrobe people, as it does to the singers and managers, Susan Froemke was delighted that I picked up on that. "I didn't expect 'the Machine' to play such a big role. It almost became human, too… I wanted to show all aspects of the production", she said.

Editor Bob Eisenhardt noted that "nothing was planned" and that they stumbled upon these great characters, like a mother and son in line for tickets at the box office the first day who had never seen an opera in their lives but knew Lepage's work from Cirque De Soleil. Now they have seen all 16 hours of the complete Ring Cycle: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. "And many more operas", he added.

On to the Tribeca Talk:

Tribeca Talk panel, l - r, Moderated by the Voice of the Met Margaret Juntwait, Deborah Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris, Peter Gelb
Tribeca Talk panel, l - r, Moderated by the Voice of the Met Margaret Juntwait, Deborah Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris, Peter Gelb

Peter Gelb sees his role as the General Manager to "open up the Met to the world". With a documentary background himself, he knew that he wanted to give all access to Susan Froemke and her film crew. With his award-winning series The Met: Live In HD, which will continue with all four Ring operas this May, he will introduce Wagner to a much wider audience than ever before.

During the panel discussion, Julie Taymor was brought up by a questioner from the audience who compared expensive spectacles in New York. She happened to be in the audience and corrected the statement about the show that was not mentioned by name. "It's a $35 million show and it's still my show", she said, and commented that she went through "so much pain, seeing this film," because she understands what they are going through.

This week marks the launch of the second cycle of Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen at the Metropolitan Opera House

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