05 December 2011

Hey, Mr. Gelb, I’ve Written a Pastiche Opera, Too!

Isle Full of Noises: David Daniels & Joyce DiDonato
A promotional photo for Enchanted Island at the Met.
Joyce is probably the last person I’d think of as Sycorax, the Caribbean witch who spawned Caliban. But that’s why theater is fun.

On New Year’s Eve, the Metropolitan Opera will unveil The Enchanted Island, a new opera by George Frideric Handel, who died in 1759 and yet would not have been surprised to see this “pastiche” with his name on it. Recycling odd bits of music into a new opera was a common practice in Handel’s day (he undertook a few himself), extending the fun and saving the composer a great deal of bother.

Cobbled together by Jeremy Sams (with additional music by Jean-Philippe Rameau and Antonio Vivaldi, as well), The Enchanted Island is loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and stars Joyce DiDonato as Caliban’s mother, the witch Sycorax. Also in the cast are David Daniels, Anthony Roth Costanzo, and as the god Neptune, which I reckon to be the 655th role in his legendary 137-year career, Plácido Domingo, because nobody could bear the thought of his sitting all lonely by himself on New Year’s.

My point is, why should Jeremy Sams have all the fun? I happen to have an excellent libretto for another new Handel opera right here, incorporating all those crowd-pleasing elements of Baroque tradition, as well as my own, more forward-looking principles: namely, that opera, in order to survive in the 21st century, must be more like television.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Rhoda-Brenda.

Our setting is the enchanted Isle of Manhattan, and the palace of Queen Rhoda Morgenstern (Renée Fleming), betrothed to handsome Prince Joe Gerard (Andreas Scholl). Unfortunately, Rhoda is also loved by Carleton, a mysterious Doorman knight (David Daniels), and to thwart the marriage, Carleton enlists the powerful sorceress Ida (Stephanie Blythe), who also happens to be Rhoda’s mother, supreme ruler of the magical realm of Grand Concourse.

Carleton little suspects that he, in turn, is loved by Rhoda’s confidante, her sister, Princess Brenda (Joyce DiDonato), and further complications arise when the exotic Northern queen, Mary Richards (Susan Graham), arrives from the frozen land of Minneapolis, accompanied by her henchmen, Lou Grant (Ewa Podles´) and Ted Baxter (Plácido Domingo, in the 973rd role of his career). Lou seeks Brenda for himself, even as Prince Joe, undone by Ida’s sorcery, forgets Rhoda and falls in love with the beautiful Mary Richards.

Don’t worry too much about keeping track of who’s in love with whom: that’s what Met Titles® are for.

Anyway, they all stomp around in boots and feathered hats and sing about honor and vengeance for three hours, until at the last minute, Brenda persuades Ida to set everything right, in the bravura aria, “Ma, Knock It Off!”

Mary goes back to Minneapolis, all the couples line up appropriately, and everybody sings a chorus of “Da tempeste,” with the words changed a little bit.

You’ll love it, really. What do you say, Mr. Gelb?

No comments: