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Wagner Marathon in Anchorage — But What About Local Opera?

"The Machine" in Das Rheingold. Photo by Ken Howard, Metropolitan Opera, Courtesy of National CineMedia.

It’s not often that Alaskans get to see Wagnerian opera, much less the full Ring cycle in one sweep, but this week and next, the Metropolitan Opera is beaming all four Wagner Ring operas to cinemas around the world, including to the Century 16 Cinema in Anchorage. Ring-nuts rejoice!

These are the rebroadcasts of the live performances of the Robert Lepage productions that debuted at the Met over the last two years. They already aired at least once at Anchorage’s Century 16 (among hundreds of other cinemas), but these reruns are your chance to see any you missed, or to watch them all in succession, marathon-style.

I am almost tempted to purchase tickets. After all, Wagner’s Ring cycle is a cultural institution, and Lepage’s $16+ million, 45-ton, behemoth planked set design (aka, The Machine) will surely go down in operatic history.

And, the compulsive side of my personality does love me a marathon. There’s something deeply satisfying about enduring a good, long, popcorn-fueled movie-fest. It’d be an accomplishment — an epic conquest, really — to withstand the entire Wagner Ring cycle in two weeks.

I am almost tempted, but not quite. Personally, I abhor Wagner, so sitting through 15 hours of Wotan and The Machine seems more grueling than entertaining. Like a 26.2-mile run, a Wagner marathon would probably be good for me, but also a little painful and not much fun.

But that’s just a matter of taste. Personal penchants aside, there’s still the nagging question of how this relatively new phenomenon of broadcasting major opera, theater, symphony, and dance performances will affect local performing arts companies. Anchorage’s Century 16 now regularly airs Met operas, National Theatre plays, LA Philharmonic concerts, and the Bolshoi Ballet. Is the globalization of performing arts a good thing for Alaska?

Alaskans deserve to see first-rate opera, even Wagner. For those of us who can’t afford a trip to New York or Bayreuth, the Met broadcasts are a chance in a lifetime to see these world-class, historic productions. But Alaskans also deserve in-the-flesh, truly live opera in our home state. One doesn’t need Wagnerian imagination to picture a day when audiences for local productions dwindle because the $18 tickets to see the Met at the multiplex — while shockingly high for a “movie” ticket — are still just a fraction of the price of a local live opera ticket.

Personally, I choose to believe that this won’t happen. Surely it’s only positive to make opera more accessible to audiences in remote and rural areas. Hopefully the Met broadcasts will expose new people to opera and actually increase audiences for local companies.

As for myself, I’ll skip the Wagner, save my marathon endurance for a rerun of Tolkien’s Ring cycle, and save my money for tickets to the Anchorage Opera. They’ve just announced their 2012–2013 season, and it includes a production of Puccini’s Tosca and the world premiere of Victoria Bond’s Mrs. President, the story of Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for U.S. president. And Alaskans will be the first to see it.

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Das Rheingold aired last night at Anchorage’s Century 16 Cinema. Die Walküre airs on Monday, May 14, at 6:30 pm, Siegfried on Wednesday, May 16, at 6:30 pm, and Götterdämmerung on Saturday, May 19 at noon. Tickets are available at the cinema and from Fandango.

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