The Enchanted Island at the Metropolitan Opera: going for Baroque

February 15, 2012 at 11:52 pm (Music, opera)

    The Enchanted Island is essentially a ‘pasticcio,’ or pastiche (or a mash-up, in contemporary parlance), a cobbled together mixture of music by several Baroque era composers with plot by Shakespeare. The Shakespeare component consists chiefly of The Tempest, with a soupcon of Midsummer Night’s Dream thrown in for good measure. Prospero (David Daniels) is marooned on an island, where he practices the dark arts of magic. Not having been a particularly benevolent ruler, he has managed to annoy mightily a sorceress named Sycorax (Joyce DiDonato). She’s pretty ferocious, except when she’s trying to soothe her son Caliban (Luca Pisaroni, in about a gazillion layers of dreadfully grotesque make-up).

Prospero gives a fairly simple assignment to the good sprite Ariel (Danielle De Niese, spectacularly costumed and with a voice to match). She manages to mess it up, and all sorts of mischief results.

The idea for The Enchanted Island apparently came from general manager Peter Gelb. He thought it would be a treat for opera lovers to have a chance to hear the best in Baroque singing. Judging by the astonishing voice of countertenor David Daniels, this goal was certainly achieved. In fact, all of the singing in this production was spectacular, with special kudos going to Daniels, Joyce DiDonato, and Danielle De Niese. And the presence of Placido Domingo as King Neptune was the icing on the cake! And the staging, as you can see, was jaw-dropping.   (For a list of the works used in this opera, click here.)

Joyce DiDonato as Sycorax:

Danielle De Niese as Ariel:

David Daniels as Prospero:

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Confirmed Romantic that I am, it took me a while to appreciate the special beauty of the Baroque repertoire. But I get it now. Many of my favorite performance videos contain music from that era:

Gloria, from Bach’s mighty Mass in b minor. The University of Warsaw Choir is conducted by the dynamic and radiantly beautiful (beautifully radiant?) Irina Bogdanovich:

Te Deum, by Marc Antoine Charpentier. (French speakers might enjoy a visit to this site.)       The Parlement de Musique is led by their founder,  Martin Gester:

Rondeau from ‘Les Indes Galantes’ by Jean Philippe Rameau. Marc Minkowski leads Les Musiciens du Louvre, with soloists Magali Leger and Laurent Naouri:

Winter, from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I Musici, with Federico Agostini:

One piece I recognized in The Enchanted Island was Handel’s ‘Zadok the Priest,’ transformed into ‘Neptune the King’ (in honor of Placido Domingo, reigning king of tenors!). “Zadok the King’ is a coronation anthem closely associated with royalty. It was played in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. The BBC Symphony and Chorus are led by Sir Andrew Davis:

(While searching YouTube for this music, I also turned up a video of the 2004 wedding of Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederick and Mary Elizabeth Donaldson. Click here to view.

Frederik and Mary now have four children – two princes and two princesses – so the Danish succession would seem to be secure, in case you were anxious on that score….)

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When Peter Gelb, General Manager of  the Metropolitan Opera, decided in 2006 to try broadcasting Met performances in movie theaters throughout the U.S and  the world. there were plenty of doubters. But his bold initiative has met with resounding success, as Ann Midgette documents in a recent article in the Washington Post. We saw The Enchanted Island last week in a neighborhood movie theater, about twenty minutes’ drive from our house. Tickets were $24 (including a service charge) as opposed to $250 (or more) at the opera house. The opera house is exciting and glamorous. The movie theater was convenient and inexpensive. And I got to munch on my beloved popcorn while enjoying a fabulous world class production.

Click here for a look at what has been featured and what’s still to come in the Met’s Live in HD 2011-2012 season.

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