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Docurama presents
Sing Faster: The Stagehands' Ring Cycle (1998)

"While the gods are out on stage singing about the great problems of the world, we're doing all the hard work."
- A stagehand

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 28, 2004

Director: Jon Else

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language)
Run Time: 00h:55m:08s
Release Date: June 29, 2004
UPC: 767685957332
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B+B+B- D-

DVD Review

Grand opera is always a chancy proposition to stage, and the bigger and more complicated the opera the more difficult the task. Quite possibly one of the toughest of all to stage is Wagner's gigantic seventeen-hour Ring Cycle, the operas Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdammerung. Ranging in scenes from under the water to the halls of Valhalla to earth to a ring of magical fire, it's horrifically complicated and dependent on a highly-skilled precision stage crew.

This documentary takes a look at the staging of the 1995 production of the Ring by the San Francisco Opera, mostly through the eyes of the stage manager and the stagehands. The conductor and director are barely glimpsed, and the singers are mostly disembodied voices or props to be shrouded in fog or handled in one way or another. Interspersed among the footage of various things going wrong in the month up to the actual production (fog either doesn't work at all or completely hides the singers; the dragon doesn't function properly) are interview segments with the stagehands that give their slightly skewed view of what the operas are all about.

Although these chats are humorous, they display a certain amount of smug superiority over many of the anonymous stagehands. Although this is billed as an affectionate look at those who make the operas happen, it can't resist including segments that make some of them look a shade ridiculous or dimwitted. It's redeemed to some extent with interview segments with members of the crew who are aware and articulate, so there is an element of well-roundedness to the presentation. But mostly, the sense is that it's just a job; during the interminable waiting between scenes, they play poker, or watch the NBA, lift weights or crochet.

There's a fair amount of Wagner's music present, although it's mostly playing underneath the irritated chatter of the stage manager and the crew as they try get the production into shape. "Super giants to the stage, please." is a frequent plaintive refrain among these voiceovers. The frustration is often palpable as any screwup is likely to be both highly visible and highly embarrassing. "When they get done with that interlude, the curtain's going up. So if something's not in place, we're in trouble."

This documentary does offer a very interesting glimpse backstage, though time-lapse photography is a bit overused, especially at the end when apparently the entire Ring Cycle whizzes past in a matter of a few seconds. But fans of Wagner will certainly be interested in what goes into the staging of this epic work.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture generally looks quite nice considering it's almost entirely shot backstage in limited lighting. Black levels are good and I noted little in the way of artifacting. Color is decent, considering the source material, and in shots of the crew playing poker at a red table the colors are extremely vivid. Black levels are more than acceptable.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 audio track is limited to the two front speakers; no surround information is included. The sound is reasonably good, again considering the conditions under which it was shot. The music is a bit lacking in presence, but that's probably intentional since it's not the principal focus. The dialogue is quite clear and free of hiss and noise.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back,Brother's Keeper, Go Tigers!, Keep the River on your Right, Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy, Lost in La Mancha, The Smashing Machine, Sound & Fury
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Other than eight trailers for eight unrelated Docurama releases, there are no extras. Chaptering is adequate.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

An interesting look behind the scenes of a complicated opera staging, with a nice transfer though a merely functional soundtrack.

 


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