Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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):