Retooling the Met Opera’s Problematic ‘Ring’ Machine

Retooling the Met Opera’s Problematic ‘Ring’ Machine

But the largest rotations had a habit of making a deep, unsettling “clunk” noise. “The entire machine structure shifts its weight, radically, and that used to cause this big clunking noise,” Mr. Gelb explained.

To fix it, Mr. Mace said, the Met installed shims to restrict the freedom of movement within the two towers, eliminating the clunks during weight shifts. The company also refurbished the mechanical elements, installing a new metal chain, wheels and pulleys — lubricating it all carefully. No, not with WD-40: The Met used red lithium grease.

When Mr. Lepage first began unveiling his high-tech “Ring” operas, Apple had only recently released the iPhone 4. Technology — from smartphones to the stage — has changed quite a bit since then. So in some areas the “Ring” is updating.

Many of the worst mishaps in the early outings of the cycle stemmed from a bug in the control system originally used to operate the machine. Mr. Mace, who was at the house for many of the performances — he called the night of the frozen rainbow bridge “one of the worst nights of my career” — said that every once in a while the old system would simply take too long to do its calculations, then stop.

“All of this stuff fails safe,” he said. “We’d have a stop, and you would have to reset manually.”

Now the Met is using its new house computer system to control the machine, which is faster, better integrated with the company’s other technical systems, and much easier to control. That, officials believe, will improve reliability and create a safer environment. (The acrobats used as body doubles in the production are getting an upgrade, too: The cables that pull them up the planks will now be tugged by power winches instead of the old hand-cranked winches.)

But in some areas, the Met found, the Lepage “Ring” was still at the vanguard — especially with its video. After determining that new video technologies were unlikely to surpass or even match some of the effects created in the production — especially the depth and three-dimensionality of “Siegfried” — the Met decided to reinvest in its original video system, refurbishing the hardware to keep it running.

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