Encore Michigan

MOT brings Wagner to its parking deck in inspired COVID-era style

operaReview October 20, 2020 David Kiley

DETROIT, Mich.–As theaters grapple with what comes next in the COVID-19 era, The Michigan Opera Theatre moved is current production of Wagner’s Twilight: Gods into its parking garage to minimize possible spread of Coronavirus.

Indeed, the short production, which debuted on October 17, is staged on multiple levels of the garage, with patrons never having to leave their cars. The live singing is heard through the car’s audio system, tuned to various FM frequencies directed by grips as each vehicle is guided through the experience.

Contextual staging of opera outside of traditional theatre spaces is an increasingly popular thing. Though Wagner wrote The Ring Cycle in mid 19th century, long before automobiles, using the Opera House parking deck as a stage and allowing patrons to remain safely in their cars is an inspired effort to remind us what we are missing. It also remind us that we can move slowly back to normalcy by taking care of respecting one another’s health and safety.

The production is a similar experience as a drive-in movie these days, though the artists are performing live here and the patron’s vehicle moves from level to level. To augment the voices of the artists, there is some “set” design elements, such as the use of hand-held lighting, luminaries, a succession of trees, and graffiti drawings with the repeated scrawling of “Siegfried.”

Twilight: Gods is the finale of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. We get a prologue to the finale with Erda, Mother Earth, telling us the story of the golden “ring” that gjves eternal power to whomever possesses it. For generations, gods, giants and dwarves have fought for possession of this ring. Brunnhilde (Christine Goerke), Erda’s daughter, is the one designated to bring about the end of the struggle. Brunnhilde is in love with the hero of the story, Siegfried. As a token of his love, Siegfried gives Brunnhilde the ring, not aware of its corrupting influence.

The finale is delivered in six acts, with the last–“Brunnhilde’s Immolation”–performed on the top exposed deck of the parking structure, and it began to rain lightly. The effect–rain glistening through the hand-held lights of the ensemble–was suitably ghostly. And in keeping with this fun, unusual production, the stage direction calling for Brunnhilde to take the ring from Siegfried’s corpse and “mount a Mustang” is carried out with an actual Ford Mustang convertible.

This special production is directed by Yuval Sharon, who was recently named MOT’s new Artistic Director. Edward Windels is orchestrator and arranger. Musical advisor William Billingham, from Lyric Opera of Chicago, played piano. Mark Grey was on sound design. The execution of the sound engineering was quite good, and I’ll also credit my 2017 Ford Escape Titanium. Kaitlyn Pietras and Jason H. Thompson were on set, lighting and projection. Their work made the parking structure feel like a dark, foggy wood.

Donnie Ray Albert (Alberich), Catherine Martin (Waltraute), Morris Robinson (Hagen), Avery Boettcher (Woglinde), Olivia Johnson (Wellgunde), Kaswanna Kanyinde (Flosshilde), Sean Pannikar (Siegfried), Marsha Music (Erda) round out the company.

Twilight: Gods is our first sample of Mr. Sharon’s work–and this is unique and unforgettable experience. We should all be grateful and optimistic, as MOT continues to think of ways to deliver opera to its patrons without the luxury of the Opera House stage.

Tickets to experience the opera inside the parking deck on October 20th and 21st are sold out. But MOT is taking reservations at no charge to watch the performance inside the Opera House via digital link.

Week of 11/23/2020

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