The Met Ring on PBS, plus Wagner docs on YouTube

Just in case you haven’t heard/seen/read enough about the Met’s new Ring cycle, those with American TV can take the whole thing in again on PBS this week. The fun starts with the documentary Wagner’s Dream [of the Planks of Doom] on Monday, September 9, and then actually starts with Rheingold on Tuesday. Do not adjust your television: it actually looks like that. James Levine and Fabio Luisi split conducting duties.

I wrote far too much about this thing when I saw it live, relive the magic here.

(A critic recently told me that he hopes he will never have to write another word about this cycle ever again. I have to agree.)

If you’d like to see something more stimulating, consider the classic Boulez/Chéreau Ring, if you haven’t seen it. You might also consider Harry Kupfer and Daniel Barenboim’s excellent production, Kasper Holten’s intelligent Copenhagen Ring, or the spotty but frequently brilliant Stuttgart Ring, split between four directors (Peter Konwitschny’s Götterdämmerung in particular is unmissable). Unfortunately, last time I checked none of them were on Netflix. Try your local library, or if you’ve got the money some of these aren’t as expensive as you might think.

On your local YouTubes you can watch two fascinating documentaries on the Ring cycle that have nothing to do with Lepage. The below video contains both: the first concerns the Chéreau Ring, the second, Sing Faster, shows the staging of the Ring at the San Francisco Opera. Both are super awesome and feature excellent vintage hairdos.

Sorry about the lack of blogging. There hasn’t been much going on in New York, and I’ve been so busy with work I haven’t been creative about finding other things to write about. See you soon.

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  1. It's probably not on YouTube, but "The Golden Ring," about the making of the Solti, is also worth watching – though I wish there were less gabbing, more of the music.

  2. Disclosure: I work in programming at PBS and participated in this Ring Cycle TV production.

    I agree that the merits of Lepage's production do not need to be discussed any further in light of this broadcast. With the wide availability of Live in HD, I'm guessing that opera fans with any inclination to see the Ring have already done so. To this audience, the PBS broadcast is an exercise in redundancy.

    That said, I'll be very curious to see the primetime ratings for this week. Is there an opera audience out there that Live in HD doesn't reach? Does the Ring stand any chance of making channel-surfers stick around?

    In a nation where there is very little government financial support for the arts, PBS broadcasts represent some of the only significant federal dollars going towards opera. I suppose this contrasts greatly with how things work in Europe. Can you think of a better way to allocate the government's opera subsidy?

  3. Bobby–I think it's GREAT that PBS is devoting so much time to the Ring. The fault is entirely the Met's for not making a better production to broadcast.

    I would love it if the Met didn't have a virtual monopoly on PBS programming, though. Would it be possible to show some of the European productions that are broadcast on Arte, Mezzo, ORF, and other channels not available in the US?

  4. We do occasionally air non-Met productions, but pretty much only when Placido Domingo is involved. If you have any interest in LA Opera's "Il Postino," I thought the role of Pablo Neruda was actually well-tailored to PD's current vocal abilities. (**Self-promotion alert** – You can stream it on PBS's website.)

    As for broadcasts of European productions, the primary obstacle is, of course, expense. But all it takes is a couple billionaires willing to open up their checkbooks. Do you know any wealthy opera fans?

  5. There are tons of wealthy opera fans but they're mostly busy funding opera houses, not broadcasts. Unfortunately, the people who give money to these things, as generous as they are, tend to be arch-conservatives when it comes to taste–the kinds of things I would like to see are possible in Europe because of state subsidies that we don't have. It's a shame if PBS *also* must hew to the tastes of this one particular group.

    I saw Postino in Vienna. I didn't like it much, but I respect the effort, I guess. (

  6. Greetings, Zerb.
    We left Netflix because they hadn't anything since 2009.
    I'm intrigued by a 2008 Ring production from Valencia that uses 3D projections that look to be more effective and more imaginative than the leaden Machine. But I keep going back to Chereau's 1976 production. It coheres and the performances are riveting.

  7. (A critic recently told me that he hopes he will never have to write another word about this cycle ever again. I have to agree.)

    Despite the views of Alex Ross and most of the press, I believe the new Ring will do quite well for the Met, for the singers, for all the artists involved and for Wagner. The original Bayreuth reviews for the Ring were scathing, as the original reviews for most of Puccini and Bizet. Eduard Hanslick is only remembered because Wagner immortalized him in Meistersinger. Alex Ross will be a mere footnote in the history of music, mostly remembered for his juvenile assessment of the Met’s new Ring in the New Yorker.

  8. I am a new to opera (it started with Jonas Kaufmann in scenes from Werther on youtube) and spent the week with my head full of the Ring (which, for opera, seems like starting Henry James by reading The Golden Bowl). I am grateful to PBS for broadcasting it. And thank you for your excellent blog and all the intelligent comments–they have helped me understand what I was hearing and seeing and also given me some confidence in my own ideas (the staging seemed static; Bryn Terfel was terrific, one of the few characters I cared about). Maybe this is naive, but if Lepage can't read music, how does he fully direct the performers?