Baroque Operatic Fantasy “The Enchanted Island” offers giddy delights – Met Live in HD

Luca Pisaroni as Caliban in "The Enchanted Island." Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

On Saturday, January 21,2012 at 12:55, opera and theatre lovers will get their first glimpse of the new opera The Enchanted Islandas the Met Opera performance is streamed “Live in HD “to selected theatres around the world. “New,” that is, in the sense that it has just been created. Yet the music and story are a delightful pastiche of traditional operatic and theatrical elements, sometimes soaring, frequently familiar, and at moments, evoking even giddy responses from the audience. It is just a wee bit over the top. But who ever said opera shouldn’t be fun for the eyes as well as the ears.

The Enchanted Island is a world premiere opera that combines great music of the Baroque era with an all-new, English-language story. The score combines selections from more than 30 operas, cantatas, and oratorios by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau, and other masters of the Baroque period. The story itself, by the English theater artist Jeremy Sams, combines two of Shakespeare’s best-known plays in a lighthearted “mash-up.”

The four young lovers from A Midsummer Night’s Dream find themselves shipwrecked on Prospero’s island from The Tempest, leading to a tortuous web of comic and dramatic romantic entanglements.

The extraordinary cast includes Joyce DiDonato as the sorceress Sycorax; David Daniels as her nemesis, Prospero; Danielle de Niese as the air spirit Ariel; Luca Pisaroni as the monstrous but soft-hearted Caliban; Lisette Oropesa as Prospero’s daughter Miranda; Anthony Roth Costanzo as the noble Ferdinand; Layla Claire, Elizabeth DeShong, Paul Appleby, and Elliot Madore as the Midsummer lovers; and, in a star cameo, Plácido Domingo as Neptune, god of the seas. William Christie, an early music specialist of worldwide acclaim, conducts—in his first Live in HD appearance.

The visually spectacular production is by Phelim McDermott (Satyagraha). Deborah Voigt hosts the transmission which will run about three and a half hours, including one intermission. There is also an encore screening date for select U.S. theaters on Wednesday, February 8, 6:30 p.m. local time.

In the Berkshires, the telecasts are carried by the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington (with an additional ticketedpre-opera talk for those interested); the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield, and The Clark Art Museum in Williamstown.

A scene from "The Enchanted Island" with Placido Domingo as Neptune. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

More About The Enchanted Island

The Enchanted Island is a contemporary take on the 18th-century tradition of operatic “pasticcios” (pastiches), in which new librettos were combined with music from various compositions to create entirely new theatrical pieces. The tradition was particularly popular in London, where Handel was a prominent practitioner. The score for The Enchanted Island comprises selections from a variety of Baroque operas, cantatas, and oratorios, many of which are rarely performed in contemporary opera houses.

The score includes music from many Handel works, specifically the operas Alcina, Amadigi di Gaula, Ariodante, Atalanta, Deidamia, Partenope, Semele, Tamerlano, and Teseo; the oratorios Hercules, Judas Maccabaeus, La Resurrezione, Susanna, and Il Trionfo del Tempo a del Disinganno; the cantatas “Tanti strali al sen mi scocchi” and “Notte placida e cheta”; the ode “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato”; and “Zadok the Priest,” one of the composer’s Four Coronation Anthems.

The other works represented in The Enchanted Island are Vivaldi’s operas Argippo, Il Bajazet, Farnace, Griselda, Tito Manlio, and La Verità in Cimento, his cantata “Cessate, omai cessate,” and his motet for contralto; Rameau’s operas Castor et Pollux, Hippolyte et Aricie, and Les Indes Galantes; Campra’s opera Idoménée; Ferrandini’s cantata “Il Pianto di Maria,” often attributed to Handel; and Leclair’s opera Scylla et Glaucus.

Sams, a noted British stage director, writer, translator, composer, and lyricist, has created an English-language libretto for The Enchanted Island that combines the plots of two Shakespeare plays. In Sams’s story, the bitter supernatural war between The Tempest’s Prospero and his nemesis, the sorceress Sycorax, is interrupted by a quartet of unexpected island visitors: the four lovers from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, whose honeymoon cruise has ended in a shipwreck. The ensuing conflicts and romantic entanglements also involve Prospero’s daughter Miranda, Sycorax’s monstrous son Caliban, the shipwrecked prince Ferdinand, the air spirit Ariel, and Neptune, king of the undersea world.

Renowned Baroque specialist Christie made his Met debut last season leading Mozart’s Così fan tutte. His adventurous explorations into the Baroque repertory, particularly with his ensemble Les Arts Florissants, have earned him an international reputation as a consummate musician and historian. In France, where he lives, he has been presented with a Legion of Honor and granted membership in both the Order of Arts and Letters and the Académie des Beaux-Arts.

This will be the team of McDermott and Crouch’s third engagement at the Met, following the 125th Anniversary Gala and the widely praised Met premiere staging of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha. Costume designer Pollard made his Met debut with Satyagraha and lighting designer MacDevitt designed the Met premieres of Adams’s Doctor Atomic and Rossini’s Armida and Le Comte Ory. Fifty Nine Productions, who provided projection design for McDermott and Crouch’s previous two Met productions, recently designed animation and projections for Broadway’s Tony Award-winning War Horse. Broadway choreographer Daniele returns to the Met following her debut with Rossini’s Armida in the 2009-10 season.

DiDonato’s most recent Met appearances were as the Composer in last season’s revival of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos and as Isolier in the Met premiere of Le Comte Ory. She has also sung Rosina in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia—a performance that was transmitted worldwide as part of The Met: Live in HD series—and the trouser roles of Cherubino in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Stéphano in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.

Daniels’s Met starring roles have included Orfeo in the new production of Orfeo ed Euridice (2007 and 2011), Bertarido in the Met premiere of Handel’s Rodelinda (2004), both Sesto and the title character in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, and Oberon in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

De Niese, a frequent collaborator with Maestro Christie, made her Met debut as Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro in 1999. Her subsequent roles have included Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare, Euridice in Orfeo ed Euridice, Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, and Despina in Così fan tutte.

Placido Domingo as Neptune in "The Enchanted Island." Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Since his debut in 1968, Domingo has sung more than 600 Met performances in an ever-expanding repertory. His most recent appearances include Orest in Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride (transmitted live in HD last season), the title character in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, Maurizio in Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, and Emperor Qin in the world premiere of Dun’s The First Emperor (2006). This season, he is conducting a revival of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Earlier this season, Pisaroni sang Leporello in the new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Met audiences have also heard him as Publio in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito and the title character in Le Nozze di Figaro. Oropesa’s Met appearances have included Lisette in the new production of Puccini’s La Rondine (2008), Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, Amore in Orfeo ed Euridice, and the Rhinemaiden Woglinde in the 2010 new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Costanzo, a 2009 National Council Grand Finals winner, makes his Met debut this season as Unulfo in Rodelinda.

The four Midsummer lovers will be sung by Layla Claire (Hermia), Elizabeth DeShong (Helena), Paul Appleby (Demetrius), and Elliot Madore (Lysander, in his Met debut). Claire, Appleby, and Madore are currently members of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.

Tickets and Participating Theatres Worldwide

For More Information on venues and tickets, go to http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/LiveinHD.aspx

Synopsis of The Enchanted Island

Act I: Prospero, exiled Duke of Milan, lives on a remote island with his daughter Miranda, surrounded by his books, potions, and instruments of magic. Prospero had at first taken up with the sorceress Sycorax, who ruled the island. But having loved her, he left her, banishing her to the dark side of the island, stealing her sprite servant Ariel and enslaving her son Caliban.

Our story begins some 16 years later, as an aging Prospero conceives a final plan to ensure Miranda’s future happiness and end his exile. He divines that a ship is passing nearby bearing the King of Naples and Prince Ferdinand, whom Prospero has destined for Miranda. Prospero commands Ariel to perform a spell that will cause a storm and shipwreck the royals on the island. In return, he promises Ariel his freedom.

Caliban, who has overheard their conversation, rushes to tell Sycorax. Sensing that Prospero is vulnerable, Sycorax tells Caliban to steal a vial of dragon’s blood from Prospero’s cell, which she will use to restore her enfeebled powers so she and Caliban can regain control of the island.

Prospero finds Miranda troubled by dreams and unfamiliar emotions. Meanwhile, Caliban steals the vial, vowing that he will rule the island with Miranda as his queen. He substitutes another vial of worthless lizard’s blood, which Ariel mistakenly uses for the Tempest Spell—with catastrophic consequences: Two pairs of honeymooning lovers—Helena and Demetrius, Hermia and Lysander—are shipwrecked and separately cast ashore on the island.

Paul Appleby as Demetrius, Layla Claire as Helena, Elliot Madore as Lysander and Elizabeth DeShong as Hermia in "The Enchanted Island." Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Prospero now commands Ariel to find Prince Ferdinand and cast a spell on him to ensure that Ferdinand and Miranda will fall in love immediately. But the first man Ariel sees is Demetrius, not Ferdinand. Ariel dutifully casts the spell on him and leads him to Miranda. The two fall in love, much to Prospero’s fury.

Meanwhile, Lysander has come ashore, cursing Neptune for, he thinks, washing his beloved Hermia out to sea. Ariel wrongly assumes that he has finally found Ferdinand and casts the spell to make Miranda and Lysander fall in love—much to Demetrius’s fury.

On the other side of the island, an exhausted Helena arrives, observed by Sycorax, who decides she will give Helena to Caliban as his queen instead of Miranda, the daughter of her enemy. Using the stolen vial, Sycorax conjures a spell to make Helena fall in love with Caliban—much to his delight—and hopes the spell is strong enough to last.

Ariel, having cast a spell on the wrong man twice, realizes that the true Ferdinand must still be somewhere out at sea. He decides to go to the very top—and calls upon Neptune for help. The sea god appears, furious that a human, Lysander, has been cursing him and angry that Ariel has disturbed his peace. Ariel begs Neptune to find Ferdinand, and Neptune finally agrees to scour the seas.

Prospero observes the chaos he has wrought—lovers mismatched, Ariel frantic, Caliban running wild, and Ferdinand nowhere in sight. He despairs of ever achieving his dream.

Act II: Hermia awakens from a nightmare, only to realize that her dream was all too true: Her new husband Lysander was swept away from her in the storm. She runs off to find him and discovers him doting on Miranda—with no memory of his wife.

Sycorax, meanwhile, exults in her revived powers and the certainty that she will soon have her revenge on Prospero and regain control of the island for her son.

Hermia is reunited with Helena. Helena’s memory and emotions have been stirred by the sight of Demetrius, despite the fact that he is with Miranda and fails to recognize her. Hermia and Helena bemoan the fickleness of men. Helena then takes off after Demetrius, spurning Caliban, who is crushed. Caliban rushes to Sycorax for consolation, but she explains that hearts that love can always be broken.

Luca Pisaroni as Caliban. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Caliban, in his fury, steals a magic book from Prospero’s cell and conjures a dream of himself as a potentate of the world, attended by loving subjects. When his fantasy spins out of control and the creatures turn on him, Prospero intervenes and disperses them.

Meanwhile, Neptune has found Ferdinand’s ship and sent it racing toward the island. Ferdinand looks toward his future. Like Miranda, he has been dreaming of an elusive someone.

Ariel sets about putting matters to rights, leading the five mismatched lovers through a forest maze until they fall asleep side by side. Ariel ensures through his magic that, when they awaken, the lovers are paired with their proper and previous mates. The five make their way to the shore to see Ferdinand and the king arrive, greeted by Prospero. Ferdinand reads the pardon ending Prospero’s exile. When he sees Miranda, he falls in love instantly, deeply and forever—no spell required.

Sycorax enters and challenges Prospero. When he rebuffs her, Neptune appears and takes her part, berating Prospero for victimizing others as he himself was once victimized. Ashamed, Prospero begs forgiveness of Sycorax and gives the island back to her and her son. Neptune extols the virtues of mercy and Sycorax grants Prospero forgiveness. All join to celebrate a new day of joy, peace, and love.

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