- Associated Press - Friday, July 11, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The cancellation of an opera that was to be performed using digitally sampled music was not orchestrated by angry musicians, their union said Friday.

The Hartford Wagner Festival planned to perform “Das Rheingold” next month at the Kingswood Oxford School without an orchestra by using digital samples from instruments to play the notes in the score.

The performance at the West Hartford school’s 600-seat theater was cancelled last month after several artists resigned from the production.

Charles M. Goldstein, the festival’s creator, said the singers and music director quit after being threatened with loss of future work by members of the American Federation of Musicians.

“They had received emails from people who were members of the AFM, and the wording of the emails was, ‘You will never work for us’ or ‘We will remember you and your disloyalty to the art,’” he said.

In a statement, the AFM said it had not coordinated the criticism, which also included hostile postings on the festival’s Facebook page. Those referred to the production as, among other things, operatic karaoke.

“The fact is, musicians the world over - professional and student, union or not - rallied against this terrible idea, and the evidence is right there on the Hartford Wagner Festival’s own Facebook page,” said AFM President Ray Hair. “This was a grass-roots, social media campaign, which was entirely driven by the artistic community. The outcry was overwhelmingly negative not because of employment issues, but because it is an artistic travesty.”

Goldstein said he has nothing but respect for the AFM’s musicians. He said the idea for this production was to be able to perform the opera with full orchestration in a small venue, where the audience could be close to the performers. He said there is no room for 100 instruments in the theater’s 20-seat orchestra pit and no musicians lost work, because none were ever going to be hired.

He said he has been working for more than a decade on the music, using samples from the Vienna Symphonic Library in a bid to recreate the proper sound.

“This was an artistic decision,” he said.

Goldstein said he is still raising money for the festival, and hopes to put on the digital “Das Rheingold” next year to be followed in future years with productions of the three other works in Wagner’s Ring series.

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