Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).



David Daniels as Prospero [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
25 Jan 2012

The Enchanted Island, Metropolitan Opera

This year is a big year for the Met. Of the seven new productions on the roster, two are the last two installments of a much-anticipated Robert Lepage Ring.

The Enchanted Island (Devised and Written by Jeremy Sams)

Click here for production information.

Above: David Daniels as Prospero

Photos by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera


Another, Anna Bolena, was more than simply a new production to mark opening night. It was also a new addition to the company’s repertoire. Still another, The Enchanted Island, was a world premiere. In this final instance, the composer who was lucky enough to land such a high profile engagement was none other than…George Frideric Handel?

ENCHANTED-ISLAND-de-Niese.gifDanielle de Niese as Ariel

If this seems perplexing, don’t worry, it is. What’s even more confusing is, he is not the only composer to create this new work. The others, Antonio Vivaldi and Jean-Philippe Rameau, are just as old. The question then becomes: how can an opera be new if it utilizes music that is over two hundred years old? The answer is not as difficult as it would appear. The Enchanted Island, the brainchild of famed conductor and Baroque interpreter William Christie, with an English language libretto by Jeremy Sams, is meant to be a modern take on a Baroque genre known as pasticcio, in which multiple arias from one or more composers would be combined with occasional changes in text to create an entirely new plotline.

The idea of a modern pasticcio fits well into the scheme of the modern Baroque revival, which began in the latter half of the 20th century. However, despite the similarities between Baroque and Bel Canto opera, which was revived around World War II, Baroque works pose a greater challenge to modern audiences.

ENCHANTED-ISLAND-Oropesa-04.gifLisette Oropesa as Miranda

This is because all aspects of Baroque opera performance practice are closely tied to the promotion of the absolutist regimes of the 17th century. In our modern era, when audiences are so far removed from these institutions, the challenge becomes making these works speak to people with the same immediacy they did centuries ago.

In this light, this opera, which combines elements of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream into a comedy of errors and mistaken affections, was a rousing success. The work manages to flawlessly combine the diverse aspects of Baroque opera, such as the da capo aria, the use of ballet, innovative stage craft, as well as the distinction between recitative, arioso and aria seamlessly. Its principal roles, sung by such lauded Baroque interpreters as countertenor David Daniels (Prospero), soprano Danielle De Niese (Ariel), and mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato (Sycorax), made an excellent case for the emotive power of Baroque music, especially its ornamentation, while at the same time updating the somewhat stilted figures of tragic nobility which populate Opera Seria.

In contrast to a work like Handel’s Giulio Cesare, in which the just nobles, Cesare and Cleopatra, are pitted against the wicked nobles, here symbolized by Ptolemeo, the nobility of The Enchanted Island was neither totally sympathetic nor totally antipathetic. Instead, each aria focused on the humanity of the emotions each character was feeling. In this light, Joyce DiDonato stole the show. Her opening aria, “Maybe Soon, Maybe Now,” showcased her ability to draw the emotive colors of Baroque ornamentation, which included growls.

ENCHANTED-ISLAND-DiDonato.gifJoyce DiDonato as Sycorax, Placido Domingo as Neptune, and David Daniels as Prospero

There were times when Danielle de Niese used her coloratura to explosive effect. In much the same way, David Daniels showed how improvised vocal technique could be used for emotional display. His legato showed vulnerability while his ornaments illustrated a fierce display of anger. Other standouts include Layla Claire as Helena and Elizabeth DeShong as Hermia; their voices blended excellently in their duet where they complain of their lovers’ rejection. Lisette Oropesa was a rather vulnerable Miranda. She gave an excellent turn in her arioso. Luca Pisaroni was comical yet sympathetic as Caliban. His role as Caliban allowed him to express the depth he is capable of. Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo was brilliant in the brief but crucial role of Ferdinand. Lastly, Placido Domingo, singing on his 71st birthday, was thrilling as Neptune. It is good to see that despite his age, his skill as a consummate performer has not diminished. However, his diction suffered at the expense of the fast runs of his music. In the end, that did not reduce the overall effect of his performance.

The production, directed by Phelim McDermott, combined elements of ancient Baroque productions with modern technology. The audience was able to see the full extent of the Metropolitan Opera’s resources, both in costuming as well as in technology. This allows modern audiences to experience the opera as someone would have back in Baroque times.

ENCHANTED-ISLAND-Claire.gifLayla Claire as Helena and Luca Pisaroni as Caliban

I have only two criticisms. On occasion, the music didn’t fit the text. Naturally, this genre of opera is predicated on the da capo aria, with its contrasting A and B sections as symbolic of the Aristotelian view of rhetoric that was popular at the time. However, most often, in the music of Sycorax, as well as the early music of Ariel, the text seemed to depict the opposite of what the music was communicating. In the case of Sycorax, her text would be asking for pity when the music was bloodthirsty for revenge. Also, the opera is long, especially the first act. Prospero’s aria, which closes Act I, in which he expresses dismay at all the confusion he has caused, could just as easily have been moved to the beginning of Act II. This would have allowed Act I to end with the fanfare at the end of Neptune’s scene: a much stronger point for a finale.

When everything is taken into consideration, The Enchanted Island is indeed a new opera. Despite the fact that none of the music is original, it successfully recasts all the facets of the genre in a new light, which concentrates less on politics and more on artistic expression. If the multitude of young children at the performance was any indication, this opera met its goals with great success. As long as it can draw new audiences and demonstrate the staying power of its music, the Baroque revival is on track.

Greg Moomjy

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):