Sunday, March 18, 2012

Eveybody's Opera (on The Enchanted Island)

everybody's opera

Jeremy Sams (writer and conceiver), with music by George Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and numerous others. The Enchanted Island / Metropolitan Opera, New York, December 31, 2011, premiere / the production I saw was a live HD broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera of New York on January 21, 2012

Perhaps for the first time since the days of Baroque opera, an opera company, in this case the New York's Metropolitan, performed a pastiche, a mix of operatic works assembled and woven into a new story. As several critics noted, this might have been a disastrous mish-mash of music and story, but with the encouragement of the Met's general manager, Peter Gelb, Jeremy Sams' selections intertwined with elements of the plots of Shakespeare's The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream, the opera community has a charming new work that threatens to become a standard in opera houses. Certainly I would go back for another visit to this quite satisfying piece.

     Prospero (David Daniels), having taken over the "enchanted" island of the title's name, has at first loved and then abandoned Sycorax (Joyce DiDonato), a sorceress banned to the dark side of the kingdom, now furious for the results. Prospero and his daughter Miranda, having stolen away Sycorax's spirit servant, Ariel (Danielle de Niese), spend most of their days reading books filled with the formulas of potents and magic spells, attended by Caliban, Sycorax's dunder-headed and brutish son. He, she argues, using him to gain entry back into Prospero's sight, should be the inheritor of the island! Yet it is clear, Caliban has little talent to rule anything.

     Passing by this isolated island is a ship bearing Prince Ferdinand, a likely suitor for Miranda's hand. Determined to marry her off to Ferdinand, Prospero plans to summon up a storm that will bring the Prince to is island and into the arms of his beloved daughter. Ariel, who is charged to carry out the spell, however, chooses—in part because of the influence of Sycorax—the wrong ship, and sets the storm upon a boat carrying four Athenian lovers, who wind up upon the island instead of Ferdinand. Confusing the two males of the foursome with Ferdinand, Ariel serves them a magic potion, which brings all those involved, Miranda, Helena (Layla Claire), Hermia (Elizabeth DeShong), Demetrius (Paul Appleby), and Lysander (Elliot Madore), into a confusing series of mismatches, each falling in love with the others, until it is difficult to know whom is madly in love with whom.

     Indeed, as in Cosí fan tutte, it doesn't seem to matter—one by one they feel betrayed, confused by the vagaries of the heart, while Caliban cooks up his own scheme to be loved by one and all, men, women, animals, and demons from the dark.

     As in Baroque opera, each figure gets his or her own say in a series of beautiful arias, some well-known, others long forgotten.

     It is only by calling up Neptune (Plácido Domingo), at first furious for the interruption, then magnanimous in his help, that order is restored, Miranda married to Ferdinand, Sycorax restored to her proper position and the Athenian foursome paired with whomever they might at the moment desire.

     The frothy results are a delight, but would not have been so amazing without the wonderful costumes and sets of Phelim McDermott and his team (who previously put together the set and costumes for Satyagrapha). Every moment of this splendid work is underlined with their splendiferous wit.

     In a post-post modern culture such as ours, it is only fitting that pastiche might come back into fashion, and if The Enchanted Island is any sign of its pleasures, bring it on. As the opera closes, even its performers seem enchanted by the experience as they joyously sing "Now a bright new day is dawning." Bringing together numerous composers, this is everybody's opera and an opera for everyone.

March 16, 2012

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