The Enchanted Island, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, January 2012

Shakespeare’s Tempest with the lovers from Midsummer Night’s Dream thrown in, all to music by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau, et al, with fabulous costumes, sets, and even mermaids. This enterprising creation by Jeremy Sams, following an original idea by the Met’s general manager Peter Gelb, is an innovative project that really succeeds, particularly in Act II.

Neptune’s World, all images MetOpera/Ken Howard

When I first went to opera, back in the days before surtitles, I would avoid reading the synopsis, and enjoy the story as it unfolded, which for something like Tosca was absolutely thrilling. I did the same here, but found Act I overlong, and a bit confusing with these strangers from Dream appearing on Prospero’s Island — perhaps an extra intermission would have helped, but Act II was super.

Prospero and Ariel

Caliban and Sycorax

The singing from some of the cast was inspired, and as soon as Luca Pisaroni made his vocal entrance in the role of Caliban the performance moved into top form. He was terrific, and so was Joyce DiDonato as his mother, the sorceress Sycorax — here she is a real character, rather than an unseen one as in Shakespeare’s play. David Daniels made a wonderfully convincing Prospero, as did Lisette Oropesa as his lovely daughter Miranda, and Danielle de Niese was brilliantly cast as Ariel. Her body movements are flowingly musical and she is such a teasingly good actor. This was a hugely strong cast of principals, with wonderful performances from the lovers:  Layla Claire as Helena, Elizabeth De Shong as Hermia, Paul Appleby as Demetrius and Eliot Madore as Lysander. All were excellent and I thought the two ladies were vocally outstanding. These characters from Midsummer Night’s Dream arrive from the tempest commanded by Prospero, Ariel’s magic spell having gone awry, but Miranda’s future partner Ferdinand is yet to be found. Help is sought from Neptune, whose magnificent appearance in an underwater world complete with chorus and glorious floating mermaids was given vocal heft and buckets-full of gravitas by Placido Domingo. His intervention succeeds, and in Act II countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo made his entrance as Ferdinand singing with a lovely tone.

The lovers from Midsummer Night’s Dream

Musically, Jeremy Sams has combined arias and recitatives from various sources, and created a remarkably unified whole, but then that is partly what those masters of the baroque did, poaching from their own earlier compositions. It was all played under the baton of baroque expert William Christie, in a stunning production by Phelim McDermott, who was responsible for the excellent Satyagraha I saw on stage at the English National Opera two years ago (and which was later a Met ‘live in HD’ relay). On this occasion, Julian Crouch was responsible for the clever set designs, and Kevin Pollard for the glorious costumes. Fine lighting by Brian MacDevitt and I loved the dance choreography by Graciela Daniele. Handel would surely have approved, though perhaps with some envy at modern technical abilities to create such an extravaganza. We may no longer have the castrati, but my goodness we have singers who can turn their vocal expertise to the baroque, and our modern lighting and stage effects are unbelievable. Mr. Sams’ creation could start a trend — I rather hope so.

Finally, Shakespeare returns as Prospero speaks those wonderful lines, Our revels now are ended … And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on …

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