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For their Christmas pantomime in 2011, the Met chose The Enchanted
Island, a mashup by Jeremy Sams of A Midsummer Night's Dream and The
Tempest. The music is a pastiche of compositions by Handel, Vivaldi,
Rameau and others. Most of it is not very well known. Sams mainly picks
music from Handel's oratorios rather than his operas. Only Zadok the
Priest is instantly recognisable.
The plot is ingenious and will delight anyone who knows the two plays. The four lovers from the Dream get shipwrecked on Prospero's island. There they play out a variation on the original play with everyone falling in love with the wrong person thanks to Ariel's incompetence. Ariel, in this version, is very much a Puckish character.
The most important character in the opera is the witch, Sycorax. She is mentioned but never seen in The Tempest. Joyce DiDonato gives a delightful performance in this role going from twisted old hag in the first act to a beautiful queen in the finale. She also has the best music. I loved her first aria "Maybe soon", with the long drawn out "Maybe "
The music consists mainly of da capo arias but they are not as repetitive as is usual in Handel operas. Sams writes more words and also, sometimes, give the contrasting middle section to a different character so that the arias become more like dialogues. Countertenor David Daniels is impressive as Prospero and I also liked the contrasting countertenor sound of Anthony Roth Constanzo as Ferdinand. Danielle de Niese is a very busy Ariel and she is rewarded at the end with a showcase coloratura aria. Placido Domingo makes an amusing guest appearance as Neptune, a performance that is mainly notable for his dodgy English enunciation. Bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni displays considerable acting and vocal ability in the important role of Caliban. I particularly liked Lisette Oropesa's delightful Miranda. The lovers' roles are taken by an attractive quartet of young Met stars. Conductor William Christie keeps everything ticking along nicely particularly during the masque, which uses music from Rameau's Les Indes Gallantes.
I originally heard this opera live on the radio and, not surprisingly, found it a bit confusing. With pictures it all clicks into place on a beautiful set with special effects that could have been used in Handel's time. Unusually, I watched this with my wife, who hates opera, but she loved every minute of it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What drove me into seeing The Enchanted Island in the first place? Two
main reasons? The title, suggestive of a very fairy-tale-like
experience, and the cast, Placido Domingo, Joyce DiDonato, Danielle
DeNiese and Luca Pisaroni promises a lot to a big opera enthusiast like
me. When I saw the HD transmission for myself at the cinema not very
long ago, I wasn't sure what to make of the opera or the production
itself at first. Thinking about it more, I have to say it was a both
interesting and perplexing experience, it has its virtues but at the
end of the day it was a tale and an opera of two very mismatched
Is there something that both halves have in common? Yes indeed there is. I have yet to be disappointed by the quality of the High Definition for this Met Opera series, and The Enchanted Island is no exception. Although the Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD is a generally uneven series I have been loyal to it ever since it first came about. The orchestra play with a stylish and beautiful sound, though with music in the Baroque style(such as here), and occasionally with Rossini, the sound can have a tendency to sound swamped in a building as big as the Met, and the conducting from Christie is lively and subtle with the tempos.
The cast are absolutely great. Joyce DiDonato is one of those singers who I like very much and like to come back to often. I know from Il Barbiere Di Siviglia and Le Comte Ory that she has given great, even sensational performances at the Met, and here with her rich, creamy voice, agile technique and charming stage presence as Sycorax, this is yet another triumph. Danielle DeNiese made a positive impression in Orfeo Ed Euridice and her Ariel here is just as beautiful and sexy. Luca Pisaroni I had seen as Figaro and Guglielmo, and find him generally a good if not always exciting singer, he makes for a very entertaining Caliban. David Daniels is a reliable Prospero and Elizabeth DeShong a beautiful Hermia. Placido Domingo fans will also enjoy his Neptune, though of a singing-actor of Domingo's calibre he was in my view deserving of more to do, all he has is two deus-ex-machina appearances.
Despite these good things, it was very uneven as a story and the quality of everything else. The second half is much better than the first. In the second half, the pacing was much more fluid, the first half was dull for my tastes. This is all helped by a beautifully choreographed masque, that was true to the musical style and enthusiastically danced. The duets are lovely too, both in the music itself and in the singers' care to blend with one another, and the chorus numbers are magnificent in volume and dynamics, and they are much less static. The scenery in this half is gorgeous and the drama flows so much better here and is much more entertaining.
It is the first half however where The Enchanted Island disappoints significantly. And no, the leaden pacing isn't the only problem. It is half an hour too long, at 100 minutes, and instead of the gorgeous visuals of the second half the sets and the staging come across as very static and unimaginative, and perhaps too overly-reliant on the video, stage and digital effects, which I actually found decent at best. The music, from the likes of Handel, Rameau, Vivaldi and Purcell is wonderful and performed to a high standard, but it deserved a much better story to move it along. I liked the idea to use and combine The Tempest and A Midsommer Night's Dream, but the telling of it in this half is clumsy, not helped by the tacky Sycorax and Caliban subplot, tries too hard to be whimsical and at times is little more than a string of arias.
Overall, a production that both interested and perplexed me. I loved the cast, the music and the way it was performed. But it was basically a tale of two mismatched halves, the second half was fun personified, the first half is clumsy and in all honesty hard to sit through, made tolerable only by the cast and music really. If I were rating the two halves, the second half around 9 or 10, a generous 4 or 5 for the first half. 6/10 for the overall production though. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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