Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Operatic epic arrives in your living room

Some people make pilgrimages across oceans to see Richard Wagner's "The Ring of the Nibelung," but this week there's a simpler way: You can immerse yourself in the four-opera saga of gods and gold in the comfort of your home. 

Thanks to public television's "Great Performances," the Metropolitan Opera's staging of the "Ring" is being shown on stations across the United States, including UNC-TV's Explorer channel and South Carolina's ETV. These are the same performances that many opera lovers saw in movie-theater relays as the Met unveiled its "Ring" step-by-step across two seasons.  

UNC-TV begins at 8 tonight, Sept 11, with "Wagner's Dream," a two-hour documentary about the Met's massive undertaking of planning the producing its "Ring." Among other things, the film offers an up-close look at the 45-ton, computer-controlled set nicknamed "The Machine" -- as well as some of the singers' jittery first encounters with it. "Das Rheingold," the opening drama of Wagner's tale, comes Wednesday night. 

On ETV, which started a day earlier, "Das Rheingold" launches the cycle tonight, Sept. 11, at 9 p.m. The remaining three operas  follow night by night on each station. (Charlotte's WTVI doesn't have the "Ring" on its schedule as far as I could find. If it's really there, let me know and I'll gladly update this.) 

There's really no way to avoid an over-used expression: This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take in an operatic landmark without having to invest anything more than your time. As best I can recall, the last time broadcast TV showed the "Ring" was in the early 1980s, when public television broadcast the cycle from the festival founded by Wagner himself in Bayreuth, Germany.

Admittedly, the 20 hours or so that the "Ring" involves are an investment of their own. If you can't afford it, here are a couple of suggestions for spots you might sample. 

The opening act of the second opera, "The Valkyrie," is a little love story unto itself, building up to some of the most rapturous music in opera. The opening of the climactic drama, "Twilight of the Gods," is another oasis of romance and optimism before the gods' Armageddon finally arrives. Behind the warriors' breastplates, passionate hearts are beating.