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Love, Loss, and What They Wore: The Enchanted Island in Review

Let me just start with saying, I think this is one of my better titles. Do you agree?

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of this post. I was fortunate enough to see The Enchanted Island in the open dress rehearsal on Wednesday. And just a quick thank you for Maryann Ford, (@fordo) who shared the experience with me and made it 100 times better. I was even able to convert a Broadway buff to opera! Success!

This production is amazing, to start with. Any memories of that nauseating Decker Traviata or the icky Bondy Tosca (Two cases where theatrical genius Zeffirelli was shafted) are gone. This production is elegant, but fantastical. Charming but wrought with symbolism. Overall, it is gorgeous. Philip McDermott and Julian Crouch have seamlessly bound the charming baroque scenery, such as waves cut out of wood that wove back and forth, to a huge animation of a globe appearing as the opera begins, to sprinkles of animated glitter when Ariel, the brilliant Danielle de Niese, moves her hand in her first aria. These awe inspiring special effects are created by 59 Productions.

Now, to the music!

I found almost this entire opera amazing. For me, the one low point of the production was the ballet during Caliban’s dream. During his dream, he dreams he is bring made king, then a load of poorly choreographed dancers come out and dance around him. The choreography looked very tired and uninspired. The dancers appeared out of sync and their dancing told no story. In fact, it made the plot of the opera, difficult to understand enough on it’s own, even more confusing. I know this was a dress rehearsal, and I hope the ballet is more put together by Opening Night tomorrow.

Now, to the fun stuff!

For me, there were a few highlights of this show. One was Danielle de Niese as Ariel, Prospero’s “fairy”. De Niese delivered beautiful coloratura in her first aria “I Can Conjure You Fire” and delicate phrasing with such rapid fire words, coupled with good diction, this was my favorite aria in the opera. The true piece is “Un Pensiero Nemico di Pace”, which you can hear Nathalie Dessay perform here .

I quite like this aria in it’s original form also. After the show, I got to meed de Niese at the stage door. She was SO warm and accommodating. A good singer and a good person!

Another highlight for me was Joyse di Donato as Sycorax, who is only mentioned in the Tempest. During her first appearance, she is scheming with her son. She is an evil sorceress and she is plotting to reclaim her powers, taken away by Prospero, so she can rule the island once more. This piece is showing her “evil” nature, but then comes these BEAUTIFUL, perfectly performed, immaculate and clear notes. Not high notes, not low notes. Just these beautiful notes in an aria that were held for a few seconds. It was so beautiful. Then, we have a woman at the end, who storms out in the costume featured on the poster:

This must have weighed 3,000 lbs...

Now this is the “What they Wore” portion of the post. These costumes were so relevant to the story. As Sycorax gains her powers back over the course of the opera, we see this “hag”, for lack of a better word, become a queen or person af authority, after having been usurped and banished. Except for the costume of Miranda, which I didn’t initially get, everything was spot on.

I was also lucky enough to meet Ms. Di Donato at the stage door. She was also as warm as could be and signed the nicest message in my Opera News. She was great!

The countertenor voice is hotly debated today. Its’ one of those things that you either enjoy, or you despise with every fiber of your being. I happen to like the countertenor voice, and while it is truly quite odd on stage, and dramatically perplexing, I don’t mind it, though. I have heard countertenors described as sounding like “nails on a chalkboard” which I find wrong. That’s screeching. If you want screeching, listen to one of today’s “pop sensations”. That should cure you.

A countertenor is something that has to be experienced in the theater. You can’t listen to one on the radio as easily. I made that mistake in Rodelinda and thought Scholl was Blythe the majority of the opera.

David Daniels was a musically appealing Prospero, but while almost every other singer went through a character ark, he didn’t seen to. At the end, he pleads “forgive me” to the others, but the acting felt the same as when he had Ariel all locked up. I do like his voice though, and I feel it in my bones that this performance will be released onto CD in the next 10 years, with roughly the same cast. I would buy it in a heartbeat.

As Caliban, Luca Pisaroni, delivered a strong and endearing portrait of a son, but also a beast, whose position as king was usurped when Prospero arrived. Pisaroni has a thick Italian accent, and I heard all the singers had an English Language Coach, and I think that was a triumph for him. While the language was good and the diction was alright, there were stretches of time where instead of sounding like a monster, he sounded like a Swedish man. The message was the same though. He also made a very nice couple with Layla Claire’s Helena.

Layla Claire is, pardon the opera cliche, “The Little Girl With The Big Voice”. She was definitely the standout in the group of the four lovers, along with her dramatically convincing “husband”, Demetrius, played by Paul Appelby. These two played off each other in the funniest way, as Helena was a victim of Ariel’s spell! That girl is going places. She was in the Bartered Bride at Julliard recently, and was featured in the American Masters documentary on James Levine.

As Hermia, I found Elizabeth DeShong somewhat disappointing. Her strong moment though, was the “Men are Fickle” duet with Helena. Hermia had an aria at the start of Act II, that was dramatically wrong. She sang it alright, but her acting wasn’t as good. She is though, an accomplished singer. I look forward to hearing of her in the future.

It was such a privilege to be able to hear Domingo sing. For a 70 year old man, his voice is in beautiful shape. He delivered an authoritative but sensitive Neptune. The one caveat was that his Spanish accent was very thick and quite audible. While that isn’t really a problem, it did make it a little harder to understand this brand new libretto. I also met him at the door, and he was very kind, and willingly signed my program, as well as the thousand DVDs and CDs that were thrust at him. There weren’t many people at the door though, which was nice. Just a lot of stuff people wanted him to sign.

Finally, Lisette Oropesa was wonderful as the daughter of Prospero. She has such a lyrical voice, but it’s very “floaty” at the same time. Her costue cofused me though. While most characters were dressed as upper class 17th century English gentry, she was dressed more like a Greek god, it appeared, from afar. After further examination, I realized what she is wearing is a normal gown that has ben ripped and torn because she’s been deserted on an island. I was a little confused, but that was soon overlooked as soon as she opened her mouth. She shined during the sextet and I applaud her for that. While I didn’t get to meet her, I left her flowers at the front desk. If you’re reading this, Ms. Oropesa, I hope you liked your flowers! Here is her costume:

William Christie lead a superb Braoque orchestra and the chorus was wonderful. While they only appeared three of four times (One time they were under the stage, so is that technically an appearance?), they made a large impact.

Alright… That’s about it for this review. This production was truly amazing and it’s happy ending and upbeat, comic message are going to triumph on New Year’s Eve. Bravi to all the singers and I hope every opera lover get’s a chance to see the Met’s new opera, The Enchanted Island.

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