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.
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