An operatic pastiche produced by the Metropolitan Opera wouldn’t normally seem to have much to do with early modern bibliography.
But when the pastiche is a mash-up of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, and John Dryden’s update of the latter, all set to music by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau, and other baroque composers, with stagecraft that fuses the painted shutters and wave machines of Restoration drama with high-tech projection done by 59 Productions, the same company behind War Horse, well, it’s too interesting an event to pass up for discussion here, where hybridity is always of interest.
The Enchanated Island’s all-star cast of spectacular singers, its music, costumes, and scenery made the production a success, despite a weak libretto inspired by Dryden and Pope, but unable to imitate or perhaps uninterested in imitating their surprising rhymes, rhetorical structures, and cadences. The production’s over-the-top celebration of baroque artifice is evident in every detail, not least in this Caliban’s (Luca Pisaroni‘s) loveable hideousness. Neptune’s (Placido Domingo‘s) entrance, set to Handel’s “Zadok the Priest” (see below), and attended by floating mermaids, was breathtaking (especially for Ariel, the spectacular Danielle de Niese, who donned an old-fashioned diving suit to get there). That Handel’s music ascends harmonically, even as Ariel descends to the ocean floor to consult with Neptune, is the kind of infelicity that nags the libretto, but such complaints are lost in the awe of tableaus like the one below.
The libretto includes the role of Sycorax, memorably brought to life by Joyce DiDonato. Far from depicting an old hag, DiDonato’s Sycroax brings an interesting and even moving modern spin to the production.
The Enchanted Island is a one-time experiment to try to popularize baroque music. It suggests the power of baroque stagecraft, especially when combined with modern technology, to refresh the modern stage.
The production is part of the Met’s “Live in HD Season,” which brings the Met’s productions to local theaters, providing some of the best seats in the house.
Prospero David Daniels
Sycorax Joyce DiDonato
Neptune Placido Domingo
Ariel Danielle de Niese
Caliban Luca Pisaroni
Miranda Lisette Oropesa
Ferdinand Anthony Roth
Snippets of the production and of its beautiful music conducted by William Christie can be seen and heard in this ad.