In a word, the Met’s new opera The Enchanted Island is enchanting. We saw it today on the big screen at the Coquitlam movie house. The audience gasped and clapped in emotional response. I am almost convinced that watching opera in a comfortable movie house, at reasonable price, and with popcorn at interval, is the best way to listen and see; so close up that all the acting is right in front of you. I could never afford tickets to sit close enough in the opera house to enjoy the acting. And the sound is overwhelming. Plus the audience is immediate and grateful.
This is a new-old opera. Maybe like most opera in far-off days: grab the best tunes; add some great singers; paint gaudy scenery; throw in a convoluted story; and let the combination do the rest to entertain the audience.
Here is why I found this production enchanting:
Great Music. The music is mostly arias borrowed from Handel, Vivaldi, and Rameau operas. They are three greats in opera from the Baroque, a time when things were really getting going in opera. I have as many of Handel and Vivaldi’s operas on CD and DVD as I can lay my hands on. I love the clean, sparse music, that is so simple in its complexity. This is music with tunes, rhythms, and loud & soft noises. But is it free of that cloying sweetness & lushness of so much that followed.
A Convoluted Story. The four lovers from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, going off on honeymoon, find themselves stranded on the island of the Tempest. Thus we have ample opportunity for distracted and misdirected lovers to run around singing. We have Ariel emulating Puck getting everything mixed and muddled. We have a pompous Prospero, surely one of the less-nice characters of the classical literature, lording it over all. And to boot we get Neptune, sung by Placido Domingo himself, coming out of the sea to put things aright when it all gets too convoluted to solve by reason or logic.
Great Singers. Joyce DiDenato stole the show as far as I am concerned. As the witch of the island, she is a mother of Caliban, and suffers for it. A close second for best is Danielle de Niese as Ariel. Then the countertenors Daniels and Costanzo add a rare sound to the present. They are all so good, at least so entertaining & enchanting, that it is almost unfair to single out one or the other.
Great Scenes. Surely the prize for the loudest and noisiest scene in opera now goes to Neptune as he is visited by Ariel? I nominate Caliban’s wish (or is it dream) scene as the most ghoulishly erotic scene in opera. And the scene where Sycorax grieve over Caliban’s first lost love (DiDenato singing) must surely rise to one of the most emotional mother-son scenes ever.
Gaudy Scenery. Not pretty or beautiful. Not sophisticated or even clever. But gaudy and fun. Many of us had a quiet laugh at some of the special effects.
I hope I have made my case: this is not an opera for the sophisticated or demanding. This is an opera for those who love opera for what it truly is: music that is good to the ear & brain; singing that stuns & overwhelms; a story to keep you entertained, not educated; and a damn good production that entertains, enthrals, and enchants for a few hours of pleasure.