Wagner's Dream

Wagner's Dream

Rheinmaidens from "Das Rheingold." Photo: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera. All rights reserved.

Wagner's Dream (2012)

Opened: 07/19/2012 Limited

National Scree...05/07/2012 - 05/07/20121 day
Lincoln Ctr/NYC07/19/2012 - 07/26/20128 days
Music Hall 307/27/2012 - 08/02/20127 days
Playhouse 707/27/2012 - 08/02/20127 days
Town Center 507/27/2012 - 08/02/20127 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter, Facebook

Genre: Music Documentary

Rated: Unrated


The stakes could not be higher as one of the theater's finest 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 - the four-part, 16-hour work 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, flying warriors, and underwater and heavenly actions.

At the invitation of the Metropolitan Opera, Robert Lepage, the visionary director who works on the cutting edge of theatrical invention, accepted the challenge of the Ring six years ago. Ms. Froemke's cameras captured the creative birth of Lepage's ideas, the numerous technical demands that had to be met, and 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 fought through tense technical glitches and singer crises, while preparing to face an audience not used to significant change.

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 theatre at the next performance.

The film follows 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 biggest role debut of her career, soprano Deborah Voigt is torn between excitement and fear over playing the warrior goddess Brunnhilde, 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.

A Conversation with the Filmmakers

Susan Froemke and Bob Eisenhardt's new documentary, Wagner's Dream, centers on director Robert Lepage and soprano Deborah Voigt as they prepare for the greatest operatic challenge of their lives: the composer's epic Ring cycle. But as the filmmakers tell the Met's Matt Dobkin, the real stars of the show may be the stage "machine" and the technical teams that worked tirelessly to tame it.

Wagner's Dream has been in the works for more than four years. Susan, what initially attracted you to the project?

Susan Froemke: When I first spoke to Peter Gelb about this, the excitement he was feeling about doing a new Ring cycle was palpable. He thought it would be a great idea to make a documentary about it, and I just jumped right on board, because I loved the idea of immersing myself in the Ring. I know that people have spent lifetimes studying the Ring, and I just wanted to dig deep into it and really understand it. That's what's great about being a documentary filmmaker--you get the opportunity to become kind of a mini-expert on a topic, by looking at it intensely. So, over the last four years, it has been a very interesting journey to go on with Robert and Peter.

You shot countless hours of footage. How did the storyline of the film take shape?

Susan Froemke: It's very hard to film the creative process, because it's not like these artists sit down and just sketch something out, and it's done. It's through a lot of hard work, a lot of trial and error, and it goes through a long evolution. What was so appealing here is that there were a lot of risks being taken. It's in Robert's DNA--and in his production company Ex Machina's DNA--to do something challenging. It's almost as if they're not interested in working on something if it's not going to push the envelope forward. That was also the DNA of Wagner, and that's also the DNA of Peter Gelb. So I think that all of that coming together is what's so interesting--this whole idea of taking a risk and wondering, "Is this going to pay off?"

Bob Eisenhardt: Making a film is a process of discovery, and I think what we discovered quite quickly is that this is really a film about risk. That's the main story. This Ring is a risk on Robert Lepage's part; it's a risk on the Met's part; it's a risk on Deborah Voigt's part. And it was a risk on Wagner's part. And so I think that was the bigger story we were trying to tell, and that gave us a clue on how to kind of weave the separate strands together.

Susan Froemke: As we started reviewing all the Quebecois footage, we started realizing how difficult it was for even some of the core team at Ex Machina to figure this out--I mean, they had this amazing vision, but could it actually work? It was a very hard concept to execute. How are you going to get the so-called "machine" to really operate? How is it going to work in a repertory-theater situation, with multiple shows running at once? And then we met Debbie, and she's such a great character. Learning the role of Brunnhilde is such a big undertaking--there's risk involved there. She was very welcoming, very open, very intimate in what she was telling us right from the beginning.

Bob, were there any strands of the story that you found especially interesting?

Bob Eisenhardt: I always felt that staging this Ring seemed like a design problem that had a very fascinating design solution. There was something I always felt was very elegant in thinking of it as one big production rather than four separate ones, and that it should have one set that works for all of them to tie it all together. I think that is a real architectural solution, and that way of thinking was intriguing. I also remember that, throughout the process, Susan kept saying, "But what was Wagner trying to do?" And as we started looking into that, we learned that this guy wrote these incredible descriptions in the libretto, and you see the discrepancy between what he wrote and what he was able to actually produce on the stage. And that's what he kind of passed down to Lepage--"This is the challenge that you have to do."

Susan, you spent so much time with Lepage and his team, especially set designer Carl Fillion. What were your impressions of this group of artists?

Susan Froemke: We felt that these were real visionaries. I mean, they're really trying to do something different. You always hear about pushing the envelope; well, this really is the gang that is pushing the envelope. Robert would say how he likes to have controlled chaos. That's his modus operandi, that's what inspires him--to work within a certain amount of chaos. And, in a way, that's the way we make films. We don't want things too buttoned-down. We want things to go in different directions, and we follow it carefully to see which direction is going to be the best one to follow. So I felt like we were kindred spirits on some level. I always got the feeling that Robert and his team felt like they were making history, and so it was appropriate that we were there, capturing that moment.

The film really gets across the potential for the set to fail. Did you have your own doubts as to whether the machine would work?

Susan Froemke: I did. I had my doubts even up until opening night. I really did.

Bob Eisenhardt: I didn't believe that the machine would ever even show up at the Met! But then, when it got out there and made it out onto the stage, I thought, "Oh, this may well work." And then you realize that the Ex Machina guys knew how to operate it, but the Met people didn't yet. There was this huge learning curve. So I think part of the mastery is all the Met stagehands finally getting control of this thing and getting it to work the way it's supposed to. Lepage always felt that the stagehands were an integral part of putting it on.

Some audience members also made it into the final film.

Bob Eisenhardt: Oh, I was really struck by the people who showed up on the box office opening day for Ring tickets, because these people really spelled out what was at stake here--the people who have a real interest, the "Ring nuts," so to speak. There's a whole camp that resists change and just wants it to be what it's always been. But I love the mother and her son who have never been to opera before but are somehow drawn to this thing.

Susan Froemke: You know, we talked to a lot of people, and everybody we spoke to loved the production. They loved the fact that it was something new, something different. Some people would say, "Just the fact that they took a risk is what's important," and that's kind of what we felt too. On some level, any new Ring production is going to be controversial. But what's great is that everybody did follow their vision to realize Wagner's dream--which he himself was never able to realize. He knew that, in his time, the technology would probably not exist to realize what he was after. I love it when Robert says of the Ring, "This is the movie that Wagner wanted to make before movies existed."

The Ring is often described as the most ambitious undertaking any opera company can attempt. Having lived with this production for four years, do you think that's true?

Bob Eisenhardt: Oh, absolutely.

Susan Froemke: Absolutely, absolutely! It does seem almost un-stageable, it truly does. And I actually think this production is fantastic in terms of what they create that's never been staged before. I feel like you can never really get enough of the Ring. You know, one of the audience members in our film had seen more than 35 Rings. And I hope I can say that someday!

Copy courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

About the Filmmakers

Susan Froemke (Director)

Susan Froemke is a non-fiction filmmaker with more than 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 more than 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.

For HBO, Froemke co-produced two special event series: Momentum in Science: The Alzheimer's Project (2009) and Addiction (2007), an unprecedented 14-part documentary series about drug and alcohol addiction, which won the 2007 Emmys Governors' Award for Special Programming.

Before starting her own production company in 2003, Froemke was the principal filmmaker at legendary Maysles Films in New York for over two decades, following the death of David Maysles. She has long been a disciple of "direct cinema," a style of filmmaking pioneered in the 1960s by the Maysles Brothers. Like "cinema verite" in France, direct cinema presents the drama of real life as it unfolds with minimal intervention.

Froemke's tremendous range as a filmmaker can be seen in the diversity of her subjects. She co-produced with Peter Gelb several co-productions between Maysles Films and Sony Classical, including: Ozawa (1985), Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic (1985), Horowitz Plays Mozart (1986), Soldiers of Music: Rostropovich Returns to Russia (1991), Baroque Duet (1992), and Recording The Producers: A Musical Romp With Mel Brooks (2001), which won a Grammy Award.

Froemke produced and co-directed Christo in Paris (1990), Karajan in Salzburg (1988), and--in the rock-and-roll arena--her updated version of The Beatles! The First U.S. Visit (1991), Conversations with the Rolling Stones (1994) and--for the J. Paul Getty Trust--Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center (1997) about the enormous Los Angeles arts complex, designed by renowned architect Richard Meier.

Previously, for HBO's America Undercover, Froemke directed Abortion: Desperate Choices (1992), which earned her an Emmy, a Peabody Award, and a DuPont-Columbia Award. Also for HBO, she produced and directed Letting Go: A Hospice Journey (1996) and Lalee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton (2001), a powerful exploration of poverty and education in the Mississippi Delta. For Lifetime Television, Froemke directed 100 Years of Women (1999) and Fear No More: Stop Violence Against Women (2001).

Bob Eisenhardt (Editor)

Bob Eisenhardt, the 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 Susan Froemke, together with Albert Maysles, on Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center, and again, together with Peter Gelb, on Soldiers of Music: Rostropovich Returns to Russia.