Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Queen of Versalles, Wagner's Dream

The Queen of Versalles
Wagner's Dream

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

After seeing the hit documentary “The Queen of Versailles,” about timeshare king David Siegel and his trophy wife, Jackie, a former Mrs. Florida, you may feel the way you do after wasting a Sunday in bed with a pint of Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter, watching an E! True Hollywood Story and a marathon of “The Girls Next Door.” (You do know that feeling, don’t you?)

There are a few laughs – such as the already legendary scene in which Jackie, reduced to traveling commercial, asks the desk agent at Hertz for the name of her driver – and even a fluid ounce of poignancy, but the family – from David, who’s just mean, to the octet of totally self-absorbed kids, to Jackie, who often seems to mean well but can’t be bothered to do little things like clean up after her dogs or make sure the other pets don’t die without food and water – is trash, and spending time with them will not enrich your life in any way.

Far more nourishing is the great-fun opera documentary “Wagner’s Dream,” a comprehensive behind-the-scenes look at the nerve-wracking months and how-will-it-ever-work final days leading up to opening night of the Metropolitan Opera’s recently completed mounting of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, with Deborah Voigt as Brunnhilde. The work of production director Robert Lepage begins years earlier at a studio in Quebec, where Lepage oversees the construction of an undulating, accordion-like stage set called “The Machine” that will be used to realize the vision, cinematic in scope, that Wagner had for the Ring, which comprises nothing less than the origin and end of life as we know it.

The production is so replete with technical danger that, even into the third and fourth operas, Met director Peter Gelb can’t bear to watch. (He goes outside and gazes at the fountain.) “Wagner’s Dream” would benefit from a bit more context – as to the critical and popular reception of the Cycle – and perhaps the judicious trimming of a few performance sequences, but it captures for anyone who’s ever experienced it the incomparable rush of adrenaline that can only happen backstage a few moments before curtain.

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