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Enchanted and Enchanting: Opera from the MET [Video]

The latest Live-in-HD-Met-Opera is a tempestuous dream (Shakes.).

Catch the encore of this delightful Opera in HD on Feb. 8 at 6:30 PM at City Center 15 in White Plains and NewRoc 18 in New Rochelle. 

A delightfully entertaining surprise: the Movie World-Premiere of The Enchanted Island, the newest opera in the Live-at-the-Met-in-HD series that took place on Jan. 21 locally and in more than 1,600 movie houses around the globe. 

Surprising also in that there was quite a huge audience despite the debilitating snowstorm raging at matinee time. It proves again that we have a vast number of truly dedicated opera lovers in Westchester. 

The Enchanted Island is a pastiche of arias by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau and several lesser-known Baroque composers. All are offered to us (in English,) via a clever libretto that combines the stories and makes use of the characters of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Turns out that it was all the idea of the Met’s Peter Gelb who approached Jeremy Sams who then devised and wrote it; Phelim McDermott who produced it; Julian Crouch who designed it and William Christie who conducted it.  All are Baroque specialists who were marvelously aided by lightening designer Brian McDevitt and the highly imaginative costuming by Kevin Pollard. 

The ultimate success belongs to the exquisite singing of every single member of the world-famous cast. And why not—they were handpicked virtuosi who evidently were allowed to help select the arias they championed for themselves and were given the freedom to fill in  “filigree” as they saw fit. The result: All- around vocal enchantment! 

Thus we are given a delicious smorgasboard of some of the best of the Baroque. Handel, (1685-1759) who himself produced pastiches in London, gets the well-deserved lion's share of representation with arias from his oratorios, cantatas and even one of his Coronation Anthems. The latter was chosen for Placido Domingo’s highly theatrical entrance as “Neptune,” the Deus-Ex-Machina character invented specifically for this venture.

But then, Mr. Sams  says: “Each of the roles is written for the artists creating them.” And it shows! The super-prolific Vivaldi (1678-1741) is next  in number, followed by the amazingly contemporary-sounding Rameau (1683-1764.) Leclair and other lesser-known composers complete the musical pot-pourri. 

I won’t bother to go into a synopsis of the convoluted libretto. It is an inspired mish-mush of the Bard’s above-mentioned creations, with the second act with its satifying resolutions, far superior to the first. But I must go into detail for the singers and their customized roles.

Prospero was allotted to the highly acclaimed American countertenor, David Daniels, who simply cannot be topped in his category. His Met appearances have always brought the house down. 

Danielle de Niese, the Australian soprano who made her Met debut in 1998, made the most both physically and musically of the sprite Ariel. She was simply adorable. 

As the sorceress Sycorax, (Sams’ invention who is only a mention in The Tempest,) we are given the incredible American mezzo-soprano,Joyce DiDonato. Outstanding throughout, possibly her best rendition was the moving aria in which she explains to her  son, the ‘monster’ Caliban, that he will be rejected by everyone throughout his life. 

That pitiful Caliban was Venezuelan, bass-baritone, Luca Pisaroni, whom you may recall as the handsome “Leporello” in the recent HD of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It took a lot of makeup to transform those good looks. But the sound was absolutely glorious. 

That also goes for Lisette Oropesa, the luminous Miranda, Layla Claire as Helena, Eliot Madore, who made his Met debut as Lysander, Anthony Roth Costanzo, the second countertenor as the dashing prince Ferdinand, and all the rest of the remarkable cast. 

Not to be outdone in the obligatory ballet sequence was the Met’s ever-improving ballet corps adorned with appropriately scary ‘Midsummernightesque’ animal heads. Conductor William Christie, a famed Baroque specialist, gave particular praise to the Met orchestra for its sensitivity and understanding of this music. His remarks were made during the informative intermission, this time led by a spirited Deborah Voigt. 

Frankly, I had had some qualms about the feasibility of a pastiche satisfying as an “opera” nowadays. I was aware of the precedence of 18th century “pasticcios” but we are now far away from the days when highly repetitive arias—frequently having little do to with the stream of the idiotically boring storyline—were performed by non-acting singers. Today we demand a more rounded entertainment, said I.

Well, we were given it here. The fantastical sets, with inspired screen projections, combines the brilliance of the musical choices with the most current state-of-the-art theatrical production techniques. It works! 

(If you missed the performance, or want to experience more of this newest operatic offering in detail, go to YouTube and simply put in Enchanted Island. We've embedded the Met's YouTube trailer for you .) 

Here are some opinions of Westchesterites who braved the snowy ‘Tempest’ to attend: 

Rita Kaplan of Scarsdale decided the whole offering was “a joy. All the singers had a marvelous time and so did we,” she said. “David Daniels was marvelous, but I have some trouble with countertenors…” 

Barbara Ames of Hartsdale thought “the voices were exquisite; the spectacle, wonderful.” She said “everything came together cleverly in the second act, as it often does in the theater.” Her husband, Irv, and she have had a subscription to good seats in the Met’s balcony for years. But the close-ups that permit seeing the true emotions, the informative and entertaining intermissions, make the HDs a “Complete Experience” for her. “I now enjoy the movies even more than going to the Met.” 

Joanne McGrath and husband Jim Aucone of White Plains, “loved it absolutely. It was an eyeful and an earful” she exclaimed, citing the “Ariel” as her favorite. Long time opera lovers, they chose to see this pastiche because it was something new but she did not “really go for the countertenors…”  

Julia Santiago and her husband Pavel Litvinov of Irvington found it “very enjoyable.” They attended lots of the HD’s last year and the year before. They like the convenience of buying their tickets --and securing the seats they want -- on line. 

Anlee Marcus  and husband Myron of White Plains, found it “a delight to hear the splendid singers,” and appreciated the “very creative, fantastic staging.”  Mrs. Marcus thought the fact that the pastiche was in English “very interesting. I was not disturbed when I resorted to the subtitles when I missed something. Everything was well acted, real, appropriate. We had no complaints!” 

Joanne Ruckel February 05, 2012 at 02:37 AM
A beautifully written review about an opera that sounds like it shouldn't be missed! Joanne Ruckel
Glen K Dunbar February 05, 2012 at 01:13 PM
Wagner, Strauss, R Verdi I am huge opera buff. I get to Met as often as I can. Yet, not as often as I should be able too. Due to nonsense Family chores I have had to forego many an opera and free time because "the system" won't do my work for me as they should Moreover, these New Canaan people have not much culture or appreciation of opera
JOSEPH RUSSELL February 05, 2012 at 02:24 PM
It sounds totally wonderful, and I can only regret not having seen it, but we prefer to see opera at the Met and view the entire stage all the time--andere Laender, usw--. However Marlies' fascinating articles make me wonder whether we may be mistaken. Joseph B. Russell

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