DIE WALKURE by Richard Wagner (Canadian Opera Company).
Good thing that designer Michael Levine thrives in collaboration. With the Canadian Opera Company's new production of Richard Wagner's Ring Of The Nibelung, he's working on a multi-year project with three other directors. To make the situation more complicated, Levine also makes his directorial debut with Das Rheingold, presented as the last production of the four-work cycle.
"It sounds completely crazy for me to begin directing with Das Rheingold," the talented designer says with a smile over lunch, "but there's also a sense of logic. Though we're presenting it last, in 2006, it's the first work in the cycle and sets up the tone, the visual language, for the three that follow.
"Over the next few years, I can observe the process, the language that's developing with the other directors (Atom Egoyan, François Girard and Tim Albery), and slowly adjust Rheingold to give it flexibility."
First up, though, is Egoyan's version of Die Walküre, best-known of the four operas (they total some 17 hours), if only for the thrilling Ride Of The Valkyries.
Wagner's tale of an all-powerful ring that corrupts anyone who touches it precedes Tolkien by nearly a century. It's an epic work of gods, men, dwarves and giants, and moves, says Levine, from order to disorder as Wotan, the king of the gods, tips society into growing chaos with his lust for power. Ultimately, it's the humans, not the gods, who save the world.
So what will Die Walküre look like? Levine avoids the direct question, saying that audiences today have too few surprises in their lives.
And dramatic surprise is something Levine understands well. In Uncle Vanya, he turned the Tarragon into a blue box flecked with stars, and the audience sat amidst green grass and flowers. For the COC's Oedipus Rex, the curtain rose on the doomed ruler enthroned atop a mound of the dead and dying.
"But I know the audience has to understand the vision. It can't just be in the artistic team's heads.
"Given the length of the Ring cycle, it's easy to give cues, using Wagner's musical motifs and the design, to turn the characters into recognizable figures."
He laughs again.
"It's too long a work for people to be wandering around the stage in muumuus without the audience realizing what's driving them."