Archive for January, 2012

The Enchanted Island at the Metropolitan Opera

January 23, 2012

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.


Laura Stevens on Peer Review at the TSWL

January 9, 2012

To follow up on the recent discussion about evaluating digital scholarship, Gena Zuroski pointed me to this very thoughtful essay about peer-review by Laura Stevens as Editor of the Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature.  Stevens weighs the crowd-sourcing experiment of Shakespeare Quarterly against maintaining a double-blind review process, and wonders whether it is even possible for identities to remain hidden when so much scholarship is previewed one way or another before it ever reaches “published” status.

On balance, Stevens decides that the type of scholarship and the mission of the journal demand that they stick to the current format.

The virtues of open feedback are great, but having viewed well over a thousand readers’ reports in my tenure as editor, I am convinced that most readers provide a more forthcoming assessment of our submissions when their identities are not disclosed to the authors. Such feedback of course can be difficult to read—we all have our stories to tell of stinging reports on our own work—but on the other hand we cannot dismiss the positive comments of anonymous readers as flattery, and that must always be a worry when the authors and readers are aware of each others’ identities. In sum, I feel that more would be lost than gained if Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature abandoned anonymous review in favor of open approaches. I may contemplate setting up an open, online review for a single article or small collection of submissions in the future, as a way of fostering this relatively new mode of scholarly interaction. For now, though, this journal is sticking with the traditional, confidential mode of peer review.

Change at any level, in any form, is always difficult in academic settings, because of the presumption that an innovation will create more problems than the status quo.  And this is probably as it should be, considering the importance of academic culture for preserving and transmitting what otherwise would not get preserved in a money-driven, presentist economic environment.

What reflective pieces like Stevens’ essay demonstrate, however, is that maintaining the status quo is itself problematic in all sorts of ways, involving its own complications, and demanding its own cost/benefit analysis, such as the one that Stevens provides here.


PS: I should also mention that Stevens also announces that EMOB’s own Anna Battigelli is joining the TSWL board.  Congratulation, Anna.