22 January 2012

The Met’s ‘The Enchanted Island’ at the Multiplex

Joyce DiDonato, as Sycorax,
looking the way she makes me feel.

She will probably spend the rest of her life trying to get rid of that gold leaf.

The Metropolitan Opera presented its new Baroque pastiche, The Enchanted Island, as a high-definition simulcast yesterday; I saw it at a high-rise multiplex in Times Square, where a disaster movie of some sort was playing downstairs. Periodically our little theater would rumble with distant explosions — including the point when Joyce DiDonato sang about “thunder underground.” So we got the benefit of extra special effects in a show that has plenty already.

Watching the screen, I was able to see bountiful details that escaped me at the final dress rehearsal, in December. For example, Joyce’s Into the Woods–style transformation from old crone to golden queen is more extensive than I’d realized: when we first see her, she’s got bushy eyebrows that appear to have been inherited from the late Andy Rooney. In the next scene, as her power grows, she loses the eyebrows. And by the time Sycorax emerges in full splendor at the end of the opera, Joyce really is golden, with bits of gold leaf pasted to her face and neck. Glamorous, indeed.

Luca Pisaroni (center) in Caliban’s dream sequence:
One of the finest acting performances I’ve seen at the Met.
Really, Pisaroni could play Caliban in Shakespeare’s “version” of this story, too.

Two acting performances that impressed me very favorably already proved even more exciting in closeup: Luca Pisaroni’s Caliban is one of the sweetest, funniest, and angriest imaginable, and his comedic teamwork with Layla Claire, as Helena, is simply beautiful to watch. Elizabeth DeShong has been the talk of New York since Enchanted Island opened, yet somehow I didn’t see her greatness until yesterday. This is a major voice, rich and creamy and powerful, and her account of Hermia’s “Where are you now?” (based on “Where shall I fly?” from Handel’s Hercules) is stunning. I sat there dreaming up a list of other roles I’d like to hear her sing.

Plácido Domingo’s first scene is pretty much a manifestation of the way opera lovers feel about him. Of course he’s a god, and of course he should make an entrance like this one, attended by flying mermaids! Seen in close-up, however, he looks like the fellow who got called at the last minute to play Santa Claus at a kids’ Christmas party. He doesn't really know what he's doing as an actor, but hey, people like it when he sings, so okay, why not?

Somehow, this slight awkwardness makes the scene even more fun, and his fans must have loved it when they heard him speak (during his intermission interview with hostess Deborah Voigt) with perfect confidence of his intentions to sing Neptune again when Enchanted Island is revived in a couple of seasons. Yesterday was his birthday: he’s 71 years old. Yet there’s no reason to believe he’ll ever sound anything less than brilliant.

A marvel of color and agility, Joyce got the first round of applause from us, and probably the most, too. (Though Domingo gave her a run for the money.) I refuse to be blasé about this: my friend is up there on a movie screen, in an opera tailor-made for her by the Metropolitan, and a roomful of jaded New Yorkers is cheering her even though she can't hear us because she's at Lincoln Center.

Darling, it’s hotter under the water!
Domingo as Neptune

That’s why I mean to go back to the Met to hear Enchanted Island one more time — even though Jeremy Sams’ libretto continues to drive me crazy, and of course watching the simulcast from the front row of the movie theater, I had no choice but to read the damnable words all afternoon.

In huge letters. In my native tongue. Right in front of my face.

The horror, the horror!

But all in all, I’m enjoying my Island cruise tremendously, and I was pleased yesterday to see so many young people, not only sitting with me in the movie theater but also on the screen in the Met audience. Enchanted Island is long, and even I get squirmy. (I have identified two ideal places where Act I ought to break, and yet the thing keeps charging right past them.) Yet the show is fun, with all kinds of staging tricks and magic. Joyce’s scary witch isn’t too scary, and Pisaroni’s monster is rather dear, as I say; Danielle de Niese’s charming Ariel likewise suggests that this might be a really good opera for kids, maybe even a first opera.

You’ve got a few more chances to see The Enchanted Island at the Met this season, and a DVD of yesterday’s simulcast will surely be released in coming months.

Not just HD, but 4-D (DiDonato, Domingo, and Daniels)

Note: I’m looking forward to another bout of Mezzo-Madness, beginning with Joyce’s next appearance in Enchanted Island and followed by performances at Carnegie Hall by Susan Graham (February 1, with Malcolm Martineau on piano) and Vivica Genaux (February 2, with Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante).

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