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

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Siegfried in San Francisco

We discover the child of incestuous love, we ponder a god’s confusion, we anticipate an awakening. Most of all we marvel at genius of the composer and admire the canny story telling of the Zambello production.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

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):