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Wagner in 3D

PostPosted: Sun Feb 22, 2015 5:42 pm
by feuerzauber
We were summoned by brass fanfare à la Bayreuth, and issued with 3D polarized glasses.

Melbourne’s Palais is one of those 3000-seat theatres, quite congruously built within a beachfront amusement complex of a bygone era, that one had every right to assume had vanished.

This Art Deco palace sits beside “Luna Park”, a non-stately “pleasure dome” modelled on, and built after, New York’s Coney Island but, unlike Coney Island, Luna Park still manages somehow to function a century later—even attracting, in one episode, lady detective Miss Fisher, who would instantly recognise the precinct as basically unchanged.

The Palais has recently been reprieved from demolition by sentimental public protest of people who could never imagine the St Kilda foreshore without it. The Victorian Opera, without the funds of Opera Australia, which performs in the Melbourne Arts Centre complex, will henceforth use the Palais theatre as its home base.

And 3000 enthusiasts came nightly to experience Victorian Opera’s premiere season there of “The Flying Dutchman” in 3D.

The “Dutchman” overture and Act II entr’acte were played, traditionally, with the curtain closed, as Wagner intended.

Act I opened on a 3D computer-animated Norwegian coast. Daland’s and the Dutchman’s storm-tossed ships seek temporary refuge from the ocean’s turbulence, coincidentally berthing either side of us, and striking their [white and blood-red] sails within inches of our noses.

When Daland’s ship ventures into his home fiord, we follow him, as in convoy, while the mountains of the fiord increasingly hem us in—a 3D means of realising Siegfried’s Rhine journey instantly springs to mind.

When, at one stage, the sailors sing below decks, the ship’s decking projects over our heads, thrusting us into the chorus.

Most eerily, the phantom crew of the Dutchman’s ship, working the riggings, are apparitions picked out by St Elmo’s fire as it dances over them.

The finale is an object lesson in just how to realize redemption on stage. Upon Senta sacrificing her life for the Dutchman, his ghost ship is swallowed by a becalmed sea, and we glimpse the ethereal forms of the lovers, united in death, rising against the wondrous Northern Lights that now illuminate a finally cloudless night sky.

In case this sounds over the top, I stress that the 3D atmospherics were created with deliberate restraint. The redemption scene was evanescent, and apparently missed by some in the audience, invariably excusing their oversight on the [spurious] grounds of preferring one’s personal imagination to 3D.

To me, 3D glasses and personal imagination do not preclude each other in a Wagner opera.

At the January meeting of the Richard Wagner Society of Victoria, Professor Kim Vincs, who heads the Deakin Motion Labs, and conductor and composer Richard Mills, described their avowed aim of faithfully portraying the natural elements that are omnipresent throughout the opera—the storm and the ocean—and man’s magnificent, yet ultimately puny, vessels that ply it. That’s what Wagner wanted from the “Dutchman” scenography.

I happened to meet Kim at interval, and heaped praise on what her team, under Richard Mills’s guidance, accomplished. I felt that Richard Wagner would have enthusiastically approved, even of the subtle—not universally obvious—dénouement.

[To me there was a contributing digital miscalculation. The Dutchman’s ship sinks a tad too close to the horizon for the brain to instantly resolve between its supernatural demise or its merely natural passage beyond the horizon—triggering an intrusion of conscious this-worldly thought at the very point when Wagner’s other-worldly music carries all thought subconsciously before it.]

Digital technology is doubtless destined to become widespread in an operatic world increasingly strapped for cash. Storage of sets becomes storage of software. Change the software parameters, and the set for the Palais “Dutchman” adapts to different venues, or transforms into variants for different operas, e.g., “Tristan”, “Billy Budd”, etc.

Will audiences embrace 3D set animation? Judging by the Palais “Dutchman”, yes—enthusiastically—but only if 3D animation faithfully serves text and music, i.e. so long as it is employed in subservience to the opera as such, and not to an arrogant director’s personal whim.

Wagner’s Ring cries out for digital technology and for 3D set animation. Ring audiences already sacrifice themselves, and five hours of donning 3D polarized glasses is a mere trifle for them.

Re: Wagner in 3D

PostPosted: Sun Feb 22, 2015 6:44 pm
by feuerzauber
My post was intended as an appraisal of 3D digital scenography, especially for realising Richard Wagner’s scenic demands.

It was not intended as a review the Victorian Opera’s “Dutchman” performance. But that, on reflection, seems remiss.

Suffice to say that a good performance of the “Dutchman” is enjoyable, and discloses to us many of the recurrent themes of Richard’s mature works, here in embryo.

But the Palais “Dutchman” was far better than a good performance. It was a great one.

Richard Mills, accomplished opera composer himself, and his young charges, the large Australian Youth Orchestra [players aged 28 years or younger], are just about ideally matched for perfectly realising this brilliant youthful imaginative work of Wagner at 30 years of age. Their bright sound was simply gorgeous.

The singing was uniformly excellent. Daland was sung by the great Alberich of the Melbourne Ring, Warwick Fyfe.

Apparently, in the far recesses of the enormous Palais, some voices didn’t always carry. I hasten to add that this perennial problem of singing in vast spaces was not our experience, from our seats near the front of the balcony (i.e. about one third back from the stage).

In any case, the polarised 3D glasses worked successfully from every vantage point throughout the theatre. They breathe new dynamic life into that antique phrase: “opera glasses”.

Re: Wagner in 3D

PostPosted: Thu Feb 26, 2015 4:58 pm
by alberich00
I couldn't agree more (re the potential virtues of future 3D computer generated visuals in live performances of Wagner's operas and music dramas). One can accomplish virtually anything scenically, in sync with the drama, and, as Feuerzauber says, so long as this monumental potential is exploited solely to serve Wagner's musico-dramatic soul, I'm all for it. In the Lepage "Ring" at the MET, though I have grave reservations about the value of that clunky machine, nonetheless some of the computer-generated visuals were stunning in sync with the drama and music (but not all). I think particularly of Fafner's forest and Siegfried's conversation with the Woodbird in "Siegfried" Act 2 Scene 2, etc.

Your friend from Wagnerheim,

Paul alias alberich00