Distressing news from the fledgling Hartford Wagner Festival. The production of Das Rheingold scheduled for this August has been cancelled.
The immediate cause is not poor ticket sales, but rather the withdrawal of several artists from the endeavor. The planned use of a “digital orchestra” in the performances prompted not merely curiosity — and condemnation from some quarters — but extortion.
Robert Brubaker, the scheduled Mime, reported that he and other artists had received threats including an email, signed by “musicians of the Chicago Lyric Opera,” warning them that if they did not resign from the Hartford Festival “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.” (The threat was later revealed to have been sent by a cellist in the Lyric Opera orchestra who admitted he did not speak for the entire ensemble.)
The Hartford Festival website cited the resignations of “our music director and two of our performers with threats of loss of future work.”
The president of the local musicians union denied making threats, adding “he’s the one making an attack on the art form.”
Wagner himself okay-ed changing the size of orchestra in the Ring to accommodate theatres with smaller resources. And many of us have seen acts or scenes accompanied by small ensembles, pianos, or synthesizers. The London Wagner Society often supports performances with piano accompaniment. I once saw a performance of the Ring with no music whatsoever — the four plays performed as a drama over 4 hours with a dinner break. (I had a sandwich with Wotan.) Robert Brubaker’s Mime is a performance I would be happy to attend accompanied by a harmonica. But it is not to be.
So instead of revenue to hotels, gas stations, performing artists, directors, scenic designers, restaurants, and (not least) the Hartford Wagner Festival, we will have no revenue to anyone whatsoever. And, alas, no Ring in Hartford.
One hopes there is a happy cellist in Chicago because there are a lot of unhappy Wagnerians elsewhere.