How Enchanted Is This Island?
This is a call to action for those who relish the impossible. It has just been achieved, and then some, in the Met’s HD version of its new Baroque pastiche, The Enchanted Island. And you’ll have to act fast to see it: virtually all the seats in the New York network theaters were sold out, despite snow, sleet, and plunging temperatures. But there are encore screenings coming up in the US on February 8th, and in Canada on March 3rd (1:00pm) and March 26 (6:30). For schedules around the world: http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/LiveinHD.aspx
Even in a season that has seen HD broadcasts of Boris Godunov, Faust, and a few other reinventions of old favorites made new and inspiring by singers acting their hearts out at the very edge of art and endurance, Island pushes the envelope that much further.
”Today is my birthday (his 71st!),” said Placido Domingo at intermission. “For the first time in my life I’m playing a god!” His entrance as Neptune dominating his watery realm is one of many showstoppers. It’s clear he hasn’t had this much fun since he first swaggered onstage in Fanciula, in ankle-length black drover coat, lugging a huge Western saddle, tossing it down on the barroom table and calling for his “Meenie.” Wait til you see him now in his beard, scales and crown, wielding a trident!
As for the rest: new lyrics tell the story (itself a challenging pastiche of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Midsummer Night’s Dream), set to music plucked from the best of the Baroque. Most of it is familiar, but one rare duet (“Men Are Fickle”) — by Hermia and Helena (actually “Amarilli? O dei!” from Handel’s Atalanta) — was ravishing. As the plot spins by, we succumb to a barrage of gorgeous melodies, outright (and hilarious) modern shtick, truly heartbreaking pathos, and some magical, old-fashioned transformations and stage trickery.
But here’s the real point: The levels of performance and production are so high, so intense and brilliant, that they hypnotize. Glittering costumes and makeup are matched, scene by scene, by truly superhuman vocal fireworks from every principal. There are ongoing miracles by Joyce DiDonato, Danielle de Niece, Luca Pisaroni, David Daniels, the quartet of Dream’s spinning lovers (especially the Hermia of Elizabeth DeShong), and the unstoppable Mr. Domingo. Then there are the concept and lyrics by Jeremy Sans, the stagecraft of Phelim McDermott, Kevin Pollard’s costumes and Julian Crouch’s sets. William Christie conducted. ‘Nuff said!
It may be the 1% who are paying for the Mets’ productions, but it’s the 99% who benefit from the quality of image and sound that define the Met’s HD broadcasts and encores. So, no matter where you live, you can find a city within traveling distance to enjoy the bounty.
If you have any remaining doubts, know that virtually the entire audience at the Ziegfeld, cocooned in winter coats and snowboots, stayed in their seats all the way through the end credits and curtain calls (still in progress as the screen faded to black). And, of course, they just kept applauding as they reluctantly filed out.