In a piece for The New York Times this past Tuesday, Times chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini reported on an interview he had with Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, the interview carried out at Mr. Gelb's invitation. In that interview, Mr. Gelb yet once again defended the Robert Lepage staging of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen:
Peter Gelb has both raised expectations and invited criticism by calling Robert Lepage’s $16 million production of Wagner’s Ring cycle for the Metropolitan Opera revolutionary. He used the word again in a recent interview at his office, as he spoke of the “trials and tribulations” of executing Mr. Lepage’s “superhuman,” technically daunting concept in a repertory theater “against amazing odds.” [...] Despite the technical problems and the stinging barbs the production has received from many critics, Mr. Gelb sees the Lepage Ring as emblematic of his mission to bring the latest theatrical thinking and technology to the Met. “Over all for me, on balance, I think it’s a remarkable experience,” he said. Yet even he is a little worried: “I reserve final assessment until I see how it all works out technically, when presented complete in the space of a week.”To be fair to Mr. Gelb in the matter of his defenses of the Lepage Ring, he at present finds himself in a seriously difficult position: he has to defend his original decision on this staging against the reality of now having on his hands a clear white elephant — a multi-million-dollar white elephant; by far the most costly production in Met history. Back at the planning stages of the project, the Lepage staging must have looked like it would be THE perfect solution for the Met: a staging that used spectacular — yes, even "revolutionary" — new technology to present Wagner's Ring the way Wagner himself conceived it. In one fell swoop, Mr. Gelb must have thought, it would satisfy both "progressives" and "traditionalists" and the Met would be the beneficiary in terms of critical accolades and ticket sales. Unhappily, things didn't work out that way. Neither "progressives" nor "traditionalists" were satisfied, and the critical response from all quarters — both print and digital, professional and amateur — was largely anything but enthusiastic. The problem Mr. Gelb faced in the planning stage was that, because of the nature of the staging, it was difficult, if not entirely impossible, to make anything even approaching a trustworthy assessment of the staging until it was fully a fait accompli, and so, at the time, he had to rely almost exclusively on how the thing looked on paper, so to speak; a hugely risky gamble given the costs involved; a gamble that, as things turned out, Mr. Gelb lost — big time. But, as always in the arts, and particularly in the performing arts, no risks taken is a prescription for stagnation, and so perhaps we all — and that very much includes us — should cut Mr. Gelb just a modicum of slack when it concerns his desperate if impotent defenses of this failed staging. We all can afford to give him that much.