This was originally posted to the Horn People group on Facebook, and I've copied it here for my non-Horn People friends and colleagues. There's a lot of kerfuffle online about the Hartford Wagner Festival, a new organization based in Hartford, CT. This "festival" plans to produce the Ring Cycle over four summers, and launch a full cycle in summer of 2017. The problem is they are using a backing track in place of a live orchestra. It's a very fancy backing track that cost thousands of euros, using the Vienna Symphonic Library of sound samples processed with Apple Logic Pro. The director explains in this article.
If you aren't angry by the end of the director's explanation of this project (claiming that this production contains A LIVE ORCHESTRA when it's a glorified karaoke track), head over to the Musicians against Hartford Wagner Festival group on Facebook.
Most of the group's members have had comments on Hartford Wagner Festival's Facebook deleted, and have been blocked from commenting further. It seems there is a lot of ego at play here, the defensive rebuttals from the Festival have little substance or artistic merit to back the decisions being made. Their justification that they "never intended to hire an orchestra" so no orchestra jobs were lost is just foolishness.
It appears that someone decided he really wanted to do the Ring Cycle without dealing with an orchestra, and instead spent thousands of euros on technology (using grant money and with non profit status) for a subpar result. You can listen to a rehearsal with the fake orchestra on the Wagnerian article page linked above. I refuse to call this a "digital orchestra", as it is a slick euphemism for canned music meant to make it sound modern and innovative to the unsuspecting ticket buyer.
You can visit the "festival"'s page here.
Please consider spreading the word about this. I want to be clear that I'm not against using technology in performances. I am against using canned music (no matter how advanced), then alluding to the resulting production being comparable to BAYREUTH and selling tickets for $100 a piece.
I lived in Hartford for five years while in school, and there is not a lot of work in town. Connecticut Opera was a large company based in Hartford, and it folded in 2009, meaning there is no large-scale opera company in the state (that I'm aware of). Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states in the country. This festival would have been a great idea if it involved a high-quality production using a live orchestra. It also would have been a great idea if it were billed as an educational or experimental production, and tickets were priced for accessibility. But this is just a pet project gone wrong, cheapening our art form while making a buck, and setting a terrible precedent for deceptive marketing.
Audiences are not stupid, and will know something is missing even if they can't articulate what it was, exactly. My fear is that potential new patrons of opera in Hartford will be turned off to the entire genre after experiencing this "production." This would be a major setback for a town that already lost its opera company during the recession, and has a great company called Hartford Opera Theater currently trying to build their audience.
Please consider voicing your opinion through a review on the Hartford Wagner Festival Facebook page, emails, phone calls, or whatever you prefer.
For reference, here is the Hartford Wagner Festival's official website.
Update: This screenshot of HWF's response on Facebook courtesy of J. M. Gerraughty.