In defence of a musician-free Wagner

In defence of a musician-free Wagner


norman lebrecht

June 06, 2014

When we reported a few days back that Hartford, Connecticut, was staging a Ring with a funny-sounding canned orchestra, there was a wave of understandable shock and outrage across the music world. The festival has just issued this response, for what it’s worth:

connecticut ring


 See Update below.

A Statement from the Hartford Wagner Festival
This project of presenting “Das Rheingold” was originally conceived to use a digital orchestra and was never intended to use a live orchestra. There was never an opportunity for instrumentalists to be involved in the first place and consequently there is no loss of work for them. The project was solely designed to employ and test the use of a digital orchestra in a performance situation as the state of the art of sampled instruments has progressed immensely in recent years.

The project was also designed to give American singers the ability to try out these roles in a smaller theater and add them to their resumes which would allow them the opportunity to perform the roles in larger houses here and abroad. All of our artists and their managements were aware of the scope of the project and agreed to perform knowing that we would be utilizing a digital orchestra. The excitement within our organization has continued to build as we come closer to our performances.

Once again, however, let me reiterate that the project was never intended to use anything other than a digital orchestra and therefore no opportunities for instrumentalists have been lost. We have, however, provided opportunities for 32 singers, conductors, pianists, production staff etc. that they would not have had without our production of “Das Rheingold.”


UPDATE, June 16:

It is with great sadness that we must announce that the 2014 production of “Das Rheingold” has been postponed until next year due to the vicious and coordinated attacks on the Hartford Wagner Festival by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) which have forced the resignations of our Music Director and two of our performers with threats of loss of future work.

We continue to support all our local musicians as we have stated from the beginning of our project and we hope that our patrons will continue to support them as well.

The Hartford Wagner Festival, Inc.


  • Christopher Stager says:

    It will be very popular with virtual audiences. Beyreuth for Avatars!

  • Nick says:

    The curious thing here is that the Hartford society have defended this enterprise by saying that no musicians have been exposed to risk or disadvantage because no musicians have been employed. I find this a novel defence, moreso because it is so patently absurd. Had the society had the funds or the need for a traditional orchestra a number of musicians would have enjoyed employment and hopefully monies from that. As a tradeoff, I am somewhat heartened to see that they put giving young singers “exposure” and experience and the like, quite high on their priorities. A curious affair all in all.

  • newyorker says:

    “Musicians” and “Instrumentalists” are not the same thing.

  • joshg says:

    By this logic, any opera, ballet, or broadway company could employ a “virtual” orchestra with the defense that “we never had any intention of hiring the live musicians for which these scores were intended, therefore no one is losing any work that never existed”.

    Instrumentalists may as well shrivel up and die, for their employment is simply too costly. As long as a few singers are getting “opportunities” and “exposure”.

  • Sixtus says:

    The stated goal is:

    “The project was also designed to give American singers the ability to try out these roles in a smaller theater and add them to their resumes which would allow them the opportunity to perform the roles in larger houses here and abroad.”

    I hardly think a digital orchestra gives any advantages over a piano reduction to this stated goal. No opera company will gauge a signer’s ability to cut through a real orchestra by how well he or she does with loudspeakers. One can make up for the lack of orchestral color by creative and brilliant staging so that the singers’ stagecraft will be evident. This — and voice qualities — are what other opera houses would be looking for on the YouTube videos of the entire cycle that such a production should post. Now THAT would be a proper use of advanced technology to advance artistic careers.

  • Tom Hartley says:

    No Americans are unemployed because our factory is in Bangladesh, because we never intended to hire American workers in the first place.

  • Robert says:

    Either the singers the festival are using need this opportunity for their cv.s as they claim or they are ‘renowned’ performers who have performed in many major opera houses across America and Europe including the Met as their biographies say. This reeks of some egomaniacs dream to direct/conduct the Ring. Surely the singers involved are now actually damaging their reputation by agreeing to be involved with such an amateurish and culturally barren concept.

  • Michael Hurshell says:

    Won’t those singers-sans-orchestra, sans rapport with a living breathing pit, sans the musicianship of tempo fluctuation and sans the possibility of varying tempo in their singing (for musical or other reasons, like disposition on a given night) be surprised when they are thrust into an engagement with the real thing. I shudder. But I agree C. Stager above: it’s perfect for virtual audiences. And I can’t help thinking: poor Hartford opera goers, who just may be duped into thinking this is not a terrible idea. Sic transit gloria…

  • SVM says:

    The Hartford response completely misses the point: the real issue is not about intentions or contracts, rather it is that there is no artistic legitimacy in performing the Ring cycle with a virtual orchestra, and that any singer or audience-member would be a fool to go along with this.

  • Branimir Pofuk says:

    By the way, how does the virtual orchestra work in the first place? How and who does operate it? Is there a conductor at all, and what is his/her role anyway?