Twenty-two violins, eight cellos, seven horn players, two harpists. With a total of 78 musicians, the orchestra is huge for Minnesota Opera's production of "Das Rheingold."
So huge, in fact, that the expanded band doesn't fit inside the orchestra pit at Ordway Music Center, the opera's primary venue for the past 30 years.
"We joke that we can fit about 55 people in the pit, maybe 60 if we get some Crisco," said Nate Kulenkamp, the opera's master carpenter. Minnesota Opera's core orchestra has just 47 players. The company often hires additional players, but this is its largest orchestra ever. And it's the first time the orchestra outgrew its pit.
How did the company manage? They moved the orchestra to perfom on the central stage. The orchestra pit then became the Rhine River, home to the lovely Rhinemaidens (pictured above), a place teeming with mystery and fog machines. A skywalk was built above the orchestra to accommodate the gods in Wagner's story. And, for the most part, video projections took the place of a physical set. (Read more about the staging in Michael Anthony's review.)
So the band is big, but the show itself is not. ("It fits into two semis and one box truck," said Kulenkamp. "That's a smaller show.") Does that mean Minnesota Opera achieved something as miraculous as the Rheinmaiden's opening song? Has the company succeeded in staging a low-cost Wagner production?
"Wagners are generally very expensive," said Julia Gallagher, assistant to the production director for Minnesota Opera. In addition to larger orchestras, these shows require especially strong singers who can project beyond the band's enormous sound. "They could be double or triple the budget we normally do," Gallagher added.
It helped that "Das Rheingold," clocking in at 2.5 hours, is shorter than other Wagner operas. "A four-hour opera goes into overtime for our stage hands and musicians," noted Gallagher.
Opera employees declined to share hard numbers, but here's what Gallagher could say about production costs: "It evened out to a pretty standard budget."