In Sunday’s (9/26) New York Times, Alex Ross writes, “On Monday night, ‘Das Rheingold,’ the first part of a mammoth new production of Richard Wagner’s opera cycle ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen,’ will thunder down on the Metropolitan Opera. A 45-ton set will test the theater’s foundations; a reported $16 million budget will test the company’s finances. In the midst of economic troubles, is it seemly to spend such a vast amount on a spectacle that will be seen by a relatively small, elite audience? … A few words, first, on the question of money. Opera is expensive, yes, but in the latter-day annals of extravagance it wins no prize. A budget of $16 million, or even $31 million, is hardly extreme for a four-part production that will unfold over two years. (Julie Taymor and her producers are said to be spending $60 million on a ‘Spider-Man’ musical, which will presumably last only one evening.)” Ross points out that Wagner decried the notion of opera as an elite playground: “In his essay ‘Art and Revolution,’ he proposed that theaters should be underwritten by the state and that all tickets should be free. In 1876, when he inaugurated a festival and opera house dedicated to staging his works in Bayreuth, Germany, he took pride in the democratic seating plan, which, unlike Madison Square Garden, gives everyone a good view.”

Posted September 28, 2010