Met Opera Broadcast: The Enchanted Island

In one way, The Enchanted Island, the Met’s Tempest/Midsummer Night’s Dream mashup with mostly-Handel music set with new English words, is a very faithful throwback to the idea of the 18th-century patische, not only in the recycling of music, complete with a countertenor lead, but also in the adapting of Shakespeare.  Patsiches often would essentially be fanfic, retelling/sequelling familiar plots, and they often would be more salacious than the original, which The Enchanted Island also is.  Faithful to the original, too, is the gaudy no-expensive-spared costumes and scenery, from the old-style expense of a zillion costumes, some even very much based on over-the-top 18th-century designs(with Ariel especially), to the more modern dazzle of continual video projections in the background, and even the awareness when Placido Domingo shows up to sing Neptune that it’s Placido Domingo showing up to sing Neptune-those in the 18th century would usually go the opera more to see the stars than to see the show.

On the other hand, the concepts and ideas the opera expresses are very modern, from the emphasis on Ariel’s freedom to Neptune being an environmentalist, to the very modern feminist interpretation  Joyce DiDonato described giving Sycorax in her interview, and of course the calling out of Prospero at the end as a tyrant, and as an invader taking land that isn’t rightfully his and pushing Sycorax away to the most undesirable part of it while enslaving her son and servant.  Ariel and Syrcorax, in fact, end up become the true protagonists of the story; the former in the center of the first act and the latter the center of the second, and the highlight of the opera is Sycorax, now a loving mother, responding to Caliban’s heartbreak at the hands of Helena by singing an appropriately adapted version of an lament from one of Handel’s oratorio’s originally sung by the Virgin Mary.  The Met actually drew the music from very obscure sources as much as they could, the only partial exception being the coronation anthem with which Neptune was introduced, which the British might recognize(and in fact cracked my dad up).  Since Handel composed beautiful music for a number of operas where the librettos were so bad they remain unstagable today, there were plenty of pieces to fish out and give new life.

The movie theater was packed, and the audience really seemed to love it.  I think this one’s going to be a success.


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