Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chaos! Confusion! Madness! Delusion!

David Daniels
Your intrepid reporter was delighted to be gifted with tickets to see The Enchanted Island at the Metropolitan Opera on Tuesday evening.  This performance piece is a pastiche comprised of arias and ensembles from a large number of works from various great composers of the Baroque.   This was a common way for 17th- and 18th-century composers to reuse their own music.  Often the works of several composers were combined into parody pastiches.  (Think of the music-hall scene in Amadeus.)  If that had been true of The Enchanted Island, we would all have slept better, but no.  Although the intention was apparently to compile a comedy--reports to this effect being really the strongest evidence that this was true--this was no parody.  This was in earnest.  The entire list of pieces stolen borrowed for this mess pastiche is at this link.

Elliot Madore
Courtesy CAMI
Let me say here and now that all the singing was perfectly beautiful.  However, I was not convinced that many of the men had music that particularly suited them vocally. Perhaps it was the acoustics of where I was sitting. Much of it seemed a little low in tessitura.  That is, until barihunk Elliot Madore swaggered on stage as Lysander.  Upon hearing him sing, my thought was "At last!  A good match of voice to material!"  His singing was resonant, and his coloratura singing--fast passages--was clear, and his high voice was in tip-top shape.  I was also very fond of tenor Paul Appleby's light tenor.  His character was a bit of a fop--in other words, a typical lyric tenor character.  Mr. Appleby sang with ease and threw himself into the funny business he was tasked with, as his character Demetrius chased hopelessly after Miranda.  Countertenor David Daniels, who is reported to have been ill and to have cancelled some performances recently, sounded reasonably healthy and in good voice.

Luca Pisaroni with soprano Layla Claire
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
 I am a fan of bass of Luca Pisaroni.  I follow his Tweets and I think he follows mine, although I'm not completely sure.  I wish his handsome face had not been obscured by the monster makeup.  It made him look like a 1950s sitcom version of a "savage", or aboriginal person.  Considering he was supposed to be the love child of David Daniels' Prospero and Joyce DiDonato's Sycorax, both appearing reasonably normal, I don't really get that. I did like his singing, of course, although as I say the role lay a little low for him.  And he was effective in the "Beauty and the Beast"-type story with the fair Miranda, daughter of Prospero.

Speaking of Joyce DiDonato....  Well, what can one say?  We have come to expect an amazing level of vocal beauty and finesse and artistry, and we are rarely disappointed.  Just as expected, Ms. DiDonato gave us beautiful sounds, vocal fireworks and nuanced legatos.  She was hampered only by the completely dreadful words she was forced to sing.

Joyce DiDonato, Placido Domingo, David Daniels
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Yes, gentle reader, it is time to discuss my major complaint about this show--the libretto by Jeremy Sams.  The story itself was harmless enough, combining bits of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream in a frothy attempt at a comedy of mistaken identities and love potions, but the writing wasn't merely bad, it was monumentally bad. The rhymes were facile and inane--"Men are fickle, dearest sister; tears that trickle, tears that blister"--and the overall literary tone of the libretto was nowhere near the level of the music.  We were asked to believe Prospero and his companions spoke as if they'd just walked off the set of the TV show "Friends".  The story was far too long for modern audiences, and the structure was simply very poor.  I was left wondering why the Met hadn't simply produced one of Mr. Handel's--or Mr. Vivaldi's or Mr. Rameau's--excellent operas instead of subjecting its audience to this drivel, but then I realized this drivel gets a lot more press than a Handel opera. 

Neptune was brought into the action as a Deus ex machina (actually Deum de ligno, but who's keeping score) to save the day in the last act.  Placido Domingo was simply adorable as the cranky god Neptune, and the transition to his Act I underwater scene that led to the chorus singing "Zadok the Priest" with new, inane words and what surely must have been recycled Rhinemaidens floating overhead was the best part of the evening. 

I can't neglect to mention the beautiful music making of William Christie, known for early music, who  conducted this mess.  The Met's orchestra and chorus were of course lovely.  Continuo by Bradley Brookshire, harpsichord, and David Heiss, cello.  It's hard to name a vocal standout.  Lisette Oropesa, Layla Claire, Elizabeth DeShon and Anthony Roth Costanzo certainly deserve mention, but everyone sang beautifully. I wish that were enough.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The online excerpts I saw/heard in execrable English made me second your feelings... once upon a time I was excited to see this because of the pageantry as much as anything else.... the promise of really good singing of course lured me too. But singing that stuff in English-- so difficult and so unfulfilling-- has made me reconsider...... Alas...I'll save my Met dollars for something else.