The Enchanted Island
Last Saturday WFCR carried the Metropolitan Opera’s premier broadcast of the new pastiche opera The Enchanted Island. Using music by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau and others, it told a story that mixed elements from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Met also gave it an extra dimension by televising it live to movie theatres around the world. My wife and I were present in our local cinema, and we were indeed enchanted by the experience.
We have been attending the Met’s Live in HD transmissions almost since the beginning. For the last few seasons we have been lining up early to guarantee ourselves good seats (I must confess it’s my wife who does most of the lining up, enjoying great camaraderie each week with her cohort of stalwart opera fans who assemble well before the theatre even opens its doors), and we have nothing but praise for the Met’s efforts to bring these great works to the screen. One of our favorite aspects of the broadcasts is the behind-the-scenes look at how this operatic magic is created. At each intermission there are interviews with the stars (who often greet their home countries in their own languages) and often with technicians who often are responsible for some portion of the magic: sets, props, costumes, lighting, animal wrangling, etc.
For the Enchanted Island we also got to hear from the creators of the piece, Jeremy Sams, who (with a little help from his cast) chose the music and devised the libretto, Phelim McDermott, who directed and William Christie who conducted. And as they were being interviewed, we could see the set being changed around them. As a person who has been involved in theatre for the better part of six decades, I always find it fascinating to watch such things being done at the most professional level.
And that judgment of the “most professional level” applies to the singing and acting that was taking place – live – before our eyes. Sams has brought together the lovers from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Helena and Demetrius and Hermia and Lysander) shipwrecked on Prospero’s Island from The Tempest. Of course it’s the ship of his brother, the usurping Duke of Milan, that Prospero means to bring to the island, in part to rectify old wrongs and spread forgiveness, but also to provide a love for his daughter Miranda in the person of the Duke’s son Ferdinand, that caused Prospero to order his servant Ariel to brew up a magic storm. With a little intervention from the original inhabitants of the island, Sycorax and her son Caliban, the magic goes astray. What doesn’t go astray is the music which is very well chosen to support the story. The libretto isn’t Shakespeare, but it does very well convey the story – which in any case is most effectively carried by the emotions expressed in the music.
The cast was an outstanding ensemble. Countertenor David Daniels was a very conflicted Prospero, wanting to create a spirit of forgiveness, but ultimately contrite for the unjustices he had inflicted upon Sycorax and Caliban and on Ariel, whom he had bent to his will. Danielle DeNiese as Ariel was one of the standouts of this production, bowing to the will of Prospero while always desiring freedom. She was a standout vocally, as was Joyce DiDonato as both a wronged woman bent on avenging herself and the doting mother comforting her son with the wisdom that the heart which is capable of love is also vulnerable to being broken. Caliban has been enslaved by Prospero but is also enchanting in his brief infatuation with Helena. Extreme makeup and grotesque posture don’t take away from the empathy generated for the character who will become king of the island but will have no queen to share his reign. Luca Pisaroni, who shone as Leporello in the Met’s recent HD Don Giovanni, did so again as Caliban. And Plácido Domingo made a spectacular deus ex machina as the god Neptune, to whom Ariel turns for help in making everything right.
The Met has done a great service by making its performances available in so many worldwide venues. They have been making radio broadcasts available for 81 years with live broadcasts supplemented by a few from the archives. Wherever you are it is likely that you’re within a reasonable drive to one of the cinemas showing the Met in HD. There are just four more performances to be broadcast this season: Wagner’s Götterdämmerung February 11, Verdi’s Ernani February 25, Massenet’s Manon, April 7 and Verdi’s La Traviata April 14. If you can’t get to the movie theatre, you can also hear them (live – including the Opera Quiz and other features) on WFCR, 88.5 FM, Saturdays at 1:00. And there is an encore presentation of The Enchanted Island coming to movie theatres on February 8.