A completely digital orchestra at the Hartford Wagner Festival has triggered a fierce debate.

Staging Wagner’s Ringhas been a life-long ambition for Charles M. Goldstein. The musician and would-be impresario founded the Hartford Wagner Festival with the hope that Connecticut would become the only place outside of Bayreuth, Germany, to perform the entire Ringcycle every year. But, with controversy sparked over the production’s digital orchestra, the success of Connecticut’s Ringhas been placed in doubt.

In response to the inadequacies of standard orchestral synthesisers, Goldstein spent the last 15 years developing a digital opera orchestra. Using the Vienna Symphonic Library, an archive of sampled orchestral instruments, he constructed a digital transcription of Das Rheingold, the first of the four operas constituting Wagner’s Ring. During the performance, the transcription will be played through 24 speakers, specially placed throughout the orchestra pit to mimic the positions and characteristics of the real instrumental sections.

Of his digital orchestra, Goldstein said: “Small companies just can’t really afford to hire 80, 90, 100 musicians in order to put on their productions, which is why so many small companies either use a piano, or a couple of pianos. I had the idea that small...