The Enchanted Island
Last night I went to see “The Enchanted Island” with my dad. It was a new opera produced at the New York Met earlier this year (or late last year) and broadcast 'round the country via the Met's HD Live at movie theaters. We were catching the encore, so I think the original run of this opera has already ended. It's a pity, because otherwise I would be encouraging everyone to see this opera ASAP.
The music is a pastiche of Baroque pieces, rather than a brand new score. The story, fittingly, is a Shakespearean mash-up. Prospero is the ruler of an island, which he stole from the sorceress Sycorax many years before. He's enslaved her son Caliban and the spirit Ariel, and he enlists the pair to shipwreck the boat carrying Ferdinand, a young man Prospero has decided is perfect for his daughter Miranda. Ariel's storm misfires, instead shipwrecking a quartet of honeymooning newlyweds: Lysander, Hermia, Helena and Demetrius. Sound familiar? Quicker than Puck could have put a girdle around the Earth, Ariel's magic has made the two men fall in love with Miranda. Meanwhile, Sycorax's magic is returning to her after years of dormancy, and she's bewitched Helena to fall in love with her son Caliban while she plots revenge on Prospero. To set this chaotic mess to rights, it's going to take the intervention of the powerful sea god Neptune!
That's right, there's f*cking floating mermaids in this opera. Betcha didn't see that coming!
This is an epic fairy tale of an opera that really captures the spirit of the Baroque with its zeal for life and artifice, high drama and romance, and beauty. It's a visual treat, from the costumes to the sets. The face of Caliban is fantastic, although how Luca Pisaroni managed to sing with thick, plaster-like makeup covering his face is beyond me. (In one of the intermissions, the actor complains/jokes that he had to shave his head for this production, while in his previous role at the Met he had to grow hair long. If given the choice, he vastly prefers the long hair.) Helena and Hermia's gowns look like they stumbled out of the court of Marie Antoinette, until the ocean waves transform their fancy silks into sodden rags. Prospero's rocking an almost steampunk aesthetic, as is his servant Ariel. But the best costume by far – costumes, I should say - belong to Sycorax, who progresses throughout the opera from wizened crone to a woman at the height of beauty and power. Each time she walks on stage, a layer is peeled away, and by the final act she blazes like a miniature sun.
I want the phone number of whoever gave her that makeover. Also, her dress designer.
Back when the music for this opera was written, many of the roles were written for castrati. Today, countertenors take up the songs, and I have to confess that it is a trip to see a barrel-chested, almost grizzled-looking older gentleman singing in a voice that I would swear was a woman if I was blindfolded is...bizarre. (Clearly, I haven't seen a lot of Baroque opera!) Two characters in this show are countertenors: Prospero and Ferdinand. This made me wonder if Miranda has had a bit of an Electra complex her, as her father Prospero has decided that the only man worthy of his daughter is the one that sings in the same high voice that he uses. Maybe I'm thinking about it too much.
Well, even if I don't really understand the musical choices, I loved the visuals, so let's just look at some pictures!
Caliban and Helena
Hermia and Helena
Prospero and Ariel
Everybody pretty much has to do what Neptune wants, in the end. So everyone is friends once more.