The proposed performance of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas with ‘live digital orchestra has seemingly caused so much controversy that it has been postponed. This article appeared in the New York Times yesterday…
The Hartford Wagner Festival had hoped to become the only place outside of Bayreuth, Germany, to perform the entire “Ring” cycle every year. Its founder, Charles M. Goldstein, came up with the idea of staging the work with a so-called “digital orchestra” relying on sampled instruments to try to replicate the mighty sounds of a full Wagnerian ensemble.
But opera is still an acoustic art form, where it is verboten for singers to use microphones, so some fans, musicians and, especially, unions representing musicians, who fear the loss of work in an age disrupted by the digital revolution, objected to the idea. Many took to social media and the web to call for boycotts of the Hartford festival.
Some singers who had signed on to the project began receiving emails urging them, and in some cases warning them, not to take part.
One email, signed by the “musicians of the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra,” warned them that if they did not resign, “the live musicians of this country will remember you for the rest of your career and treat you as a traitor to our art form.” (That letter, it turned out, was written by a cellist in the orchestra who said in an interview last week that he did not speak for the entire ensemble.)
One of the biggest stars in the production, Robert Brubaker, the tenor who was to have sung Mime, said last week that he had decided to withdraw, pointing to his own artistic reservations about the project, but also to what he described as threats from other artists about singing with a digital orchestra.
On Monday, the festival announced that it was postponing “Rheingold” until next year. In a statement on its website it cited “the vicious and coordinated attacks” of the musicians’ union, which it said had “forced the resignations of our music director and two of our performers with threats of loss of future work.” Mr. Goldstein declined to elaborate on the statement.
Joseph Messina, the president of Local 400 of the American Federation of Musicians, in Connecticut, said that his union had not been making threats of any kind. “He’s the one making an attack on the art form,” he said of Mr. Goldstein.