Those who question the future of opera as a continuing form of art need look no further than the stage of the Metropolitan Opera to find a resounding defense of it’s worth. The Met (Lincoln Center Plaza at 65th and Broadway) played host to the world premiere of “The Enchanted Island,” which will run through Jan. 30, and packed the house with viewers eager to see the latest addition to the musical world.
Although Jeremy Sams wrote the words (the libretto is in English), he can make no such claim on the music. Drawing from the Baroque operas of Vivaldi, Handel, Rameau, and others, he created a pastiche that combines the works of two or more composers with different words and a different storyline. The most modern opera is actually a construction of Baroque masterpieces, complete with a harpsichord in the orchestra pit.
The storyline is also a combination of past masterpieces, as Sams comically yet cleverly merges characters and plot from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” with the Four Lovers from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The aging Prospero, sung by the countertenor David Daniels, commands that Ariel, the incredibly talented Danielle de Niese, create a storm at sea and then bring him his nephew Ferdinand, who would be washed up on shore, to marry his daughter Miranda.
However, Sycorax, voiced by the marvellous mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, a rival sorceress and mother to the enslaved Caliban, corrupts the spell, and instead of wrecking Ferdinand’s ship, it targets the Four Lovers, as they sail on their honeymoon cruise. All falls into confusion as Demetrius and Lysander mistakenly fall in love with Miranda and forsake their wives, and it is up to Neptune, sung by the legendary Placido Domingo, to help put everything right.
By virtue of the comic plot, this opera may not be capable of taking itself seriously, nor should it be. Although there are solemn and contemplative moments, especially surrounding the wronged Sycorax, overall, the opera seeks laughs and receives them readily. The stage and libretto were full of gimmicks and humorous lines, such as Ariel appearing in deep-sea diving gear to visit Neptune.
The set also had the wonderful feeling of old opera, with painted skies, cardboard waves, and not an abstract visual concept in sight, while under the baton of William Christie, the reduced orchestra performed beautifully, filling the opera house with tunes that are rarely heard in that hall.
It was once said that if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. However, “The Enchanted Island” brings to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera one of the events that proves that a repetition of history can sometimes be a blessing in disguise.