The Enchanted Island
The Metropolitan Opera's world premiere, which combines Shakespearean characters and Baroque arias, lives up to its title.
And while this pastiche -- which combines pieces of William Shakespeare's The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream, along with excerpts from the operatic canon -- may not rival perennial December 31 favorite Die Fledermaus, it proves to be quite entertaining.
Much credit is due to Met General Director Peter Gelb, who hired conductor and co-creator William Christie, who is exceptionally knowledgeable about Baroque music. He has rummaged through the output of George Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Henry Purcell -- as well as the less-known-today Andre Campra, Jean-Marie Leclair, Jean-Fery Rebel and Giovanni Battista Ferrandini -- to find the arias that best fit the rather silly storyline Sams has confected.
The plot hurls Shakespearean lovers Hermia (Elizabeth DeShong), Helena (Layla Claire), Demetrius (Paul Appleby) and Lysander (Elliot Madore) onto the island ruled by the magician Prospero (David Daniels), who lives there with nubile daughter Miranda (Lisette Oropesa), primitive-man Caliban (Luca Pisaroni), and freedom-longing sprite Ariel (Danielle de Niese). Also hanging around are two newly-created characters: Caliban's scheming mom Sycorax (Joyce DiDonato) and a hoary, triton-wielding Neptune (Placido Domingo), who gets to admit in song that "I'm irritable."
Director-designers McDermott and Crouch are less-than-creative in their deployment of this stageful of terrific voices. Instead, they make certain that whoever is chanting remains downstage center -- and that extends to the cluster of characters in Sams' carpentered sextet, when the four lovers under Ariel's spell, Miranda and Ariel himself all air their feelings.
However, where the gifted pair's magical madness comes through is with the menacing look of the production, which suggests what might have evolved if Albrecht Durer had collaborated with Arthur Rackham. They have also called for endless special effects, which are supplied in the form of animation and projection by Leo Warner, Mark Grimmer and the appropriately-named Lysander Ashton of 59 Productions.
Daniele, for her part, should be congratulated for the larky Rameau-underscored ballet with which she fills the act-two stage. But an even larger part of the enjoyment here is the listening, especially as Christie does his standard impeccable conducting.