We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Even my non-opera-loving friends were enchanted by "The Enchanted Island" shown opening night of The Metropolitan Opera's Summer HD Festival, outdoors on the Lincoln Center Plaza.  This is our third viewing of this dazzling work and we are just as enchanted as we were the first two times when we saw/heard it live.  What was different this time was the contribution of HD Director Barbara Willis Sweete who did a superlative job of finding just the right camera angle and field of view to enhance the viewing experience.  When the action called for intimacy, the camera was right in there focusing on the duo, as in the poignant scene where Sycorax comforts her bereft son Caliban.  All of the magic was visible to the entire audience, not just to those at the front of the orchestra.  When one was curious about a character's reaction, there was the camera.  There are cases when a good HD director can make up for the flaws of the stage director.  There are rare cases when a poor HD director undermines good stage direction.  And finally, there are cases where the HD director compliments and enhances the work of the stage director.  Such was the case last night.  The gods and goddesses onstage brought magic into the lives of the audience in a brilliant replication of the magic of the story in which the immortals wrought their magic on the mortal characters.

Below we will reprint our original review.

Sometimes the Met gets it right.  Righter than The Enchanted Island one cannot get.  A perfect entertainment for New Year’s Eve, this Phelim McDermott production left the festively attired audience in a state of joy and good humor.  Much credit goes to Jeremy Sams who devised the mash-up of music of the Baroque period and wrote the libretto, also a mash-up of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Midsummer’s Night Dream.  As a fine chef does, Mr. Sams balanced his ingredients with the best of taste and plated everything to tempt--with significant input from set designer Julian Crouch, costume designer Kevin Pollard, lighting designer Brian MacDevitt, choreographer Graciela Daniele, and projections by 59 Productions.  This was a true feast for the eye and ear.

Although this is a work of intense scholarship, fitting arias and ensembles from various composers and tailoring the storytelling, the audience member does not need to consider this; one can just sit back and enjoy oneself.  The stagecraft is noteworthy and the music is “note” worthy.  The singing is glorious and the program notes indicate that many of the arias were chosen by the singers themselves.  More credit to them!  Countertenor David Daniels portrays Prospero, exiled Duke of Milan, living on an island with his daughter Miranda, charmingly sung by soprano Lisette Oropesa; the delightful spirit Ariel brought to lyric life by soprano Danielle de Niese; the lumbering Caliban effectively sung by bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni; and the sorceress Sycorax (a powerful Joyce DiDonato) seduced and abandoned years earlier by Prospero.  (She is supposed to be Caliban’s mother but we never learn if Prospero is the father.)  Prospero has the young Prince Ferdinand lined up as a husband for Miranda but Ariel bungles the magic and instead the two newly wed couples from Midsummer’s Night Dream show up.  The scene of the shipwreck alone is worth the cost of the ticket!

Four amazing young singers handled these roles with great aplomb.  Gorgeous soprano Layla Claire sang Helena,  the gifted tenor Paul Appleby sang Demetrius, and baritone Elliot Madore made an impressive  Met debut as Lysander--all three from the Lindemann program.  Mezzo Elizabeth DeShong was a fine Hermia.  The audience must wait until the second act for the brilliant countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo to appear as Prince Ferdinand; he was worth waiting for.  Let it be noted that everyone handled the fioritura beautifully and that the diction was superb.  The libretto is written with a great understanding of vocal line and emphasis and makes use of the unique properties of the English language.  This is rare in contemporary vocal writing so let us give part credit to the lyricism of the musical language that inspired the libretto.

The orchestra played beautifully for conductor William Christie whether they were playing Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau, Purcell, or some of the lesser known contributors to the pastiche.  Lest we complete this report without a single quibble, we throw this into the pot.  The role of Neptune was given to our beloved Placido Domingo who sadly came across as unsure of himself and a bit ragged of voice.  One wonders if this role would be better suited to a bass.

The countless delights of this production (don’t get me started on the fantastic projections!) are too rich to enumerate but don’t say I didn’t warn you to beg, borrow or steal a ticket.  I myself am returning for a second viewing.  Too bad that The Ring Cycle was not given to this production team.  I would happily vote for scrapping The Beast and doing just that.

© meche kroop

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