Growing up, I often listened to the New York City Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts on Saturday afternoons. It wasn't so much that I liked opera (Jimi Hendrix was - and still is - more my taste), but my late mother was an opera singer in New York City in her youth, and listening to a Met broadcast was pretty much a family ritual.
I have kept a semi-active interest in opera ever since, and was curious about how the opening of the new high-tech $16 million Met production of the Wagner opera Das Rheingold by director Robert Lepage went.
"... the central unit of the set featured 24 aluminum planks, each 30 feet long, which were moved into 17 positions to evoke different scenes. Nine projectors cast images on the planks - and dozens of computers controlled it all. "
Another WSJ article on the opera stated that the central unit weighed in at 45-tons, and that the 24 aluminum planks "can move independently, and the whole thing can rise, fall, twist into a helix and flip forward and back."
I wonder how much of the $16 million was the cost of the software programming required.
According to both the New York Times and the London Telegraph, the performance was very well-received (the LA Times reported some boos and hisses, however), but that a computer issue interrupted the final scene.
As described by the Journal, a programming glitch:
"... prevented the completion of the final scene, in which the gods were to walk across a rainbow bridge to their castle and sanctuary, Valhalla. But no bridge emerged."
As a result, "the gods simply wandered off into the wings," the Journal said.
The Journal explained that:
"As the set began to move into its final positions, a Met spokesman said, 'safety sensors indicated that there wasn't enough clearance between the lower edge of the planks and the stage, activating an automatic shutdown mechanism.' "
Well, the bad thing about listening to opera over the radio is that you don't get to see the elaborate sets, but at least you don't see the foul-ups either.
The New York Times reports this morning that the bridge is now working, and the gods were able to reach Valhalla during last night's performance.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.