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23 novembre 2008

Robert Lepage prepared for Wagner in Las Vegas

By RONALD BLUM –AP- Nov 6, 2008

To prepare for his Metropolitan Opera debut, Robert Lepage went to Las Vegas.

The Canadian director perfected "the toys," as he called his technological gadgets, while preparing Cirque du Soleil's "KA" at the MGM Grand four years ago. The audience was not exactly the jewel- and tuxedo-wearing crowd he'll see under the Met's starburst Lobmeyer chandeliers.

"The first preview, the first preview everybody has a cowboy hat on," he said. "The second preview, they're all porn stars because there's a porn convention next door. And the day after, you have the born-again Christian crowd. And then the day after that they're all Japanese with their little, `Hi, my name is Masamoto.' It opens your eyes that this is actually going to be seen by everybody on the planet, every culture. It's vitriolic. It really puts you in boiling water. And it's good. It reconciles you with the pretensions of opera in the early days, which was to be a universal, open form of art."

Lepage's production of Berlioz's "La Damnation de Faust" opens Friday night, a staging first seen at the Japan's Saito Kinen Festival in 1999 and the Paris Opera two years later. It will be telecast in high definition to theaters around the world on Nov. 22.

Berlioz's composition, often heard in concert, is performed less often than more familiar versions of the tale, Gounod's "Faust" and Boito's "Mefistofele." Even Busoni's "Doktor Faust" has been at the Met more recently than the Berlioz version, last staged by the company during the 1906-07 season.

"I like anything that has to do with the devil, not that I'm a devil worshipper," Lepage said before rehearsals, a week before the opening. "What I find is that in the theater, the devil is an interesting character."

In an interactive staging, singers' voices and movements will set video in motion from regular and infrared cameras. Small transmitters attached to the performers will trigger events.

"If you don't approach it in a cinematic way, in a more contemporary way, it's very tricky," he said.

And while preparing this opera, he's presenting concepts for perhaps the biggest event at the Met in the next decade. When Peter Gelb was hired to become the Met's general manager starting with the 2006-7 season, he hired Lepage to direct the company's new Ring Cycle, which will start appearing with "Das Rheingold" on opening night in September 2010 and lead to full cycles in starting in the spring of 2012, a year ahead of the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth.

"He was my first choice for the Ring because of his uniquely creative approach to staging music and theater," Gelb said. "He is a great storyteller, who is never short of new and virtuosic stage and visual ideas that range from the latest in motion and sound-control technology to old-fashioned theatrical techniques. In Lepage's world, things happen on stage that you wouldn't think were possible if you didn't see them with your own eyes."

Met audiences have flocked to Otto Schenk's Ring, which premiered from 1986-89 and will appear for the final time next spring. Schenk took a realistic approach, counter to the avant-garde Rings that have been in vogue since Patrice Chereau's centennial Bayreuth production in 1976. Some critics called Schenk's staging empty, but Wagner fans around the world have been attracted to it.

Lepage has viewed it on DVD and plans to attend live performances next spring.

"It's not by chance that it was very successful," Lepage said. "Now I'm trying to be an antenna and say, `OK, how would people want to see this? How can I help them understand, enter into this kind of mythology, into the psychology of the characters?'"

His starry cast has Deborah Voigt singing Bruennhilde for the first time, Bryn Terfel in his first complete Ring as Wotan, Ben Heppner as Siegfried, Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund and Met music director James Levine conducting. Lepage said the production will evoke Iceland and Nordic influences.

Lepage already is working on the Ring with dancers and acrobats in place of the singers at his Ex Machina company in Quebec City.

"It will be fresh and thrilling yet, like Schenk's, it will adhere to the mythology and the very human relationships and motivations of these unhappy figures trapped by their destinies," Gelb said, promising "storytelling presented in a magical setting which our audiences will not have experienced previously."

"KA" had a $30 million budget, which enabled Lepage to experiment with innovation. He spent about six months in Las Vegas.

"It feels sometimes like Florence during the Renaissance. There's just a lot of people with a lot of money. They don't know what do with it and they compete in hiring artists," Lepage said. "And now the people who go to Vegas are not the people who went to Vegas 20 years ago. The people who go to Vegas are 30-year-old multimillionaires, Silicon Valley people who know what designer food is, who want to see opera. It's a different crowd."

A theater and film director, a solo performer and stage director for Peter Gabriel, Lepage has worked on relatively few operas: the double bill of Bartok's "Bluebeard's Castle" and Schoenberg's "Erwartung" first appeared at the Canadian Opera Company in 1993, followed by Lorin Maazel's "1984" at London's Royal Opera (2005) and Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress" at Brussels' Theatre Royal de la Monnaie (2007).

You will not find the 50-year-old directing "Carmen," or "La Traviata." In the future, "Wozzeck" and "Pelleas et Melisande" may attract him.

"I'm attracted to the tough stuff, the ugly ducklings," he said. "I like playing with the ugly duckling and trying to make it become a swan."

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