Wagner’s Dream, a Behind-the-Scenes Documentary Film About the Metropolitan Opera’s Ambitious New Production of Opera’s Most Challenging Work – Wagner’s Ring Cycle –
To Air on THIRTEEN’S Great Performances at the Met,
Monday, September 10 at 9 p.m. on PBS
Wagner’s Dream, a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Susan Froemke that follows the Metropolitan Opera’s ambitious new production of opera’s greatest epic, Richard Wagner’s four-part, 16-hour Ring Cycle, will air on Great Performances at the Met Monday, September 10 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), the night before PBS’s week-long marathon telecast of Wagner’s Ring Cycle (September 11-14). (In New York, THIRTEEN will air the film at 8 p.m.)
The feature-length film follows visionary stage director Robert Lepage as he creates the most technically demanding production in the history of the Met, a process fraught with a formidable array of challenges for the director, singers, administration, and stage crew.
The stakes could not be higher as one of the theater’s most innovative stage directors teams up with one of the world’s leading opera companies to tackle opera’s most monumental challenge: the production of Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle that the composer first presented in 1876. For the past 130 years, the quest to produce a perfect Ring has stymied directors, including Wagner himself, who struggled to meet the immense theatrical demands of his own creation. The cosmic vision of gods and mortals vying for power and destroyed by greed calls for astonishing stage visuals of fire storms and flying warriors, not to mention major sequences set underwater and in the heavens.
At the invitation of the Metropolitan Opera, Robert Lepage, the director who works on the cutting edge of theatrical invention, accepted the challenge of the Ring six years ago. Ms. Froemke’s cameras have captured all the creative birth pains of Lepage’s concept, covering the numerous technical demands throughout the multi-year effort to bring the groundbreaking and risky production to the stage of the Met. Lepage, his Canadian team, and their American counterparts at the Met undertook their own epic journey through tense technical glitches and various singer crises, while preparing to face a demanding Met audience unaccustomed to dramatic changes from traditional stagings.
Wagner’s Dream takes you deep into the artistic process, as Lepage journeys to the land of the Nordic Eddas (which, after Wagner, inspired works such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings), where Iceland’s otherworldly landscapes fuel his vision for the Ring. It documents the early development leading up to musical and stage rehearsals at the Metropolitan Opera House.
The production team battles with the most ambitious staging in Met history, featuring a 90,000-pound set (“The Machine”) designed to realize all of Wagner’s scenic requirements, representing everything from the depths of the Rhine to a breathtaking ring of fire. Backstage moments of heartbreak and triumph are captured, as “The Machine” malfunctions on the biggest Opening Night in the opera world—but pulls off the stunning, show-ending coup de théâtre at the next performance.
The film follows the truly heroic singers as they take on many of the most daunting roles in opera, while meeting the unique difficulties of this new production. Preparing for the highest profile role debut of her career, soprano Deborah Voigt is torn between excitement and fear of over playing the warrior goddess Brünnhilde, who stars in three of the Ring operas. Unexpected drama arises as the tenor playing the Ring‘s hero, Siegfried, withdraws due to illness two days before the final rehearsal, and a new tenor, Jay Hunter Morris, courageously steps in—just in time for the production’s world premiere.
An intimate look at the challenges of live theater and the risks that must be taken, the film chronicles the tremendous creativity and unflagging determination behind this daring attempt to realize Wagner’s dream of a perfect Ring.
The first opera in the cycle, Das Rheingold, premiered at the Met in September 2010. The subsequent operas premiered over the course of the next two years, with Die Walküre opening in April 2011, Siegfried in October 2011, and Götterdämmerung in January 2012.
Susan Froemke is a non-fiction filmmaker with over thirty documentary films to her credit from the classic Grey Gardens (1976) to Lalee’s Kin (2001), a film for HBO on poverty that was nominated for an Academy Award. Most recently, Froemke co-directed Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare, with Matthew Heineman, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
A four-time Emmy Award-winner, Froemke has been in production on Wagner’s Dream for over four years, filming in New York, Montreal and Quebec City. Previously for the Metropolitan Opera, Froemke produced and directed James Levine: America’s Maestro, an American Masters presentation on PBS in 2011, and The Audition (2010), an in-depth look at the Met’s National Council Auditions, which follows the dramatic journey of the 2007 finalists as they compete to sing on the Met stage before the country’s leading opera administrators.
Bob Eisenhardt, A.C.E., the co-filmmaker and editor of Wagner’s Dream, is a three-time Emmy Award winner and Oscar nominee. Recent films he edited include Valentino: The Last Emperor, and Living Emergency: Stories Of Doctors Without Borders. He worked with Barbara Kopple on Shut Up & Sing, and on her film, Bearing Witness, which was shown at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival.
He previously collaborated with Froemke, along with Albert Maysles, on Concert of Wills: Making The Getty Center and again, along with Peter Gelb, on Soldiers Of Music: Rostopovich Returns To Russia.
Great Performances at the Met is a presentation of THIRTEEN for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers. For 50 years, THIRTEEN has been making the most of the rich resources and passionate people of New York and the world, reaching millions of people with on-air and online programming that celebrates arts and culture, offers insightful commentary on the news of the day, explores the worlds of science and nature, and invites students of all ages to have fun while learning.
Great Performances is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Irene Diamond Fund, the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation and Annaliese Soros. The Great Performances at the Met telecast is supported by major funding from the Link Foundation. Corporate support for Great Performances at the Met is provided by Toll Brothers, America’s luxury home builder®.
For the Met, Jay David Saks is Music Producer, Mia Bongiovanni and Elena Park are Supervising Producers, and Louisa Briccetti and Victoria Warivonchik are Producers. Peter Gelb is Executive Producer. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is Series Producer; David Horn is Executive Producer. The Great Performances at the Met presentation of Wagner’s Ring Cycle was directed by Gary Halvorson.
Visit Great Performances online at www.pbs.org/gperf for additional information on this and other Great Performances programs.
New York’s WNET is America’s flagship public media outlet, bringing quality arts, education and public affairs programming to over 5 million viewers each week. The parent company of public television stations THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, Need to Know, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase and provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Reel 13, NJ Today and the new online newsmagazine MetroFocus.
About the Met
Under the leadership of General Manager Peter Gelb and Music Director James Levine, the Met has a series of bold initiatives underway that are designed to broaden its audience and revitalize the company’s repertory. The Met’s 2012-13 season features seven new productions, including Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, directed by Bartlett Sher and conducted by Maurizio Benini; the Met premiere of Thomas Adès’s The Tempest, directed by Robert Lepage and conducted by the composer; Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, directed by David Alden and conducted by Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi; the Met premiere of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, directed by David McVicar and conducted by Benini; Verdi’s Rigoletto, directed by Michael Mayer in his Met debut and conducted by Michele Mariotti; Wagner’s Parsifal, directed by François Girard in his Met debut and conducted by Daniele Gatti; and Handel’s Giulio Cesare, also directed by David McVicar and conducted by Harry Bicket.
Building on its 81-year-old radio broadcast history—heard over the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network—the Met uses advanced media distribution platforms and state-of-the-art technology to reach audiences around the world. The Met: Live in HD, the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning series of live performance transmissions to movie theaters around the world, returns for its sixth season in 2011-12. The Met has also introduced Met Player, a subscription service that makes much of its extensive video and audio catalog of full-length performances available to the public for the first time online, and in exceptional, state-of-the-art quality. Metropolitan Opera Radio on SIRIUS XM broadcasts live performances from the Met stage three times a week during the opera season, as well; the Met on Rhapsody on-demand service offers audio recordings; and the Met presents free live audio streaming of performances on its website once every week during the opera season.
The Met has launched several audience development initiatives, including Open House dress rehearsals, a popular rush ticket program, Gallery Met, and an annual Holiday Series presentation for families. For more information, please visit: www.metopera.org.