The Enchanted Island
Jeremy Sams' pastiche opera draws from The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and various baroque composers.
The Metropolitan Opera
The Met’s latest production owes its existence to “a clever idea,” said Heidi Waleson in The Wall Street Journal. General manager Peter Gelb has openly argued—justifiably—that baroque operas are generally too drawn-out to tickle “modern attention spans.” To bring the music to the Met’s stage, he thus enlisted Jeremy Sams to create a piece that combines the music of various baroque composers, an original story, and an English-language libretto. Unfortunately, the scheme didn’t work. Sams chose to “mash together” plotlines and characters from The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Despite the production’s top-flight ensemble, the result is “a hot mess”—a “sprawling stew” of mismatched story elements that does no favors for Handel, Vivaldi, or any of the other great composers that are sampled.
Yet it’s worth remembering that “the practice of borrowing music from one opera and fitting it with new words” has an honorable history, said Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times. The Enchanted Island is a pasticcio, or pastiche opera, which has its roots in the 17th century and grew popular in the 18th. The Enchanted Island is a worthwhile addition to that genre, as Sams shows “a palpable respect for the beautiful borrowed music.” Aided by renowned conductor William Christie, “who has done as much as any musician today to champion baroque opera,” Sams’s work “unfolds with remarkable integrity and consistency,” even at its lightest moments.
Dramatic clichés ultimately weigh the production down, said Marion Lignana Rosenberg in TheClassicalReview.com. Too often, Shakespeare’s use of cosmic forces is “reduced to mere trickery,” while the final denunciation of Prospero, by Neptune, turns the god of the oceans into a sanctimonious environmentalist. Still, since Neptune is played by Plácido Domingo, you’re more likely to marvel at the “inimitable strength and burnished beauty” of the legend’s voice than to criticize the lyrics. The story may lack magic, but “the wonders of singing and stagecraft” on display would bring any opera fan to his or her feet.