Review: The Enchanted Island

© Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

For better or worse—depending upon your predilection--the Metropolitan Opera’s The Enchanted Island is the operatic equivalent of a juke box musical. This Baroque pastiche devised and written by Jeremy Sams uses the music of such composers as Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau, Purcell and a few lesser known luminaries to accompany a story that’s a mash-up of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Adding to the gala atmosphere of this production which appropriately premiered on New Year’s Eve, an all-star cast of singers has been assembled, including the great countertenor David Daniels as Prospero; Joyce DiDonato as the sorceress Sycorax (a character only mentioned in Shakespeare’s play); Danielle de Niese as Ariel; and no less than Placido Domingo as the god Neptune. Add to that Baroque master conductor William Christie in the pit and a spectacular production staged and designed by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch and you have a special event indeed.


Which is not to say that it is entirely successful--the appropriate elements have effectively been put into place, but to what end, exactly? Certainly, the storyline, even as swirled together as it is, is groaningly familiar, and the world has not exactly crying out for yet another Shakespeare adaptation. The music is indeed gorgeous, but--considering that Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, has been quoted as saying that he wanted to “play the Baroque card” but in a more streamlined fashion for modern attention spans--there’s far too much of it. Running three-and-a-half often lugubrious hours, this effort taxes the patience in a way that many original works from the period do not.


Still, there’s no denying the effort, ingenuity and imagination with which this concoction has been devised. Sams’ English-language libretto often displays great cleverness in its use of familiar melodies with freshly written words, and the selection of arias, apparently by Christie, should please both aficionados and relative newcomers to the genre.


While the silly storyline lacks any emotional heft whatsoever, it does have its amusing moments, such as the appearances by the old and cranky Neptune, wonderfully played by Domingo.

It’s the stagecraft that truly elevates the proceedings. Combining vintage 18th century techniques with state-of-the-art projections and animation, it displays a wit and imagination that makes the company’s behemoth productions of the Ring cycle seem hopelessly leaden. And these effects actually work.


Needless to say, with this stellar cast there is no shortage of great singing. Besides the aforementioned singers, there are superb contributions by Luca Pisaroni, looking like he just stepped out of Beauty and the Beast, as Caliban; Lisette Oropesa, charming and vocally crystalline as Miranda; and another terrific countertenor, Anthony Roth Costanzo, as Ferdinand.


For those unable to get to the Met, or afford those high ticket prices, be advised that The Enchanted Island will be broadcast in movie theaters nationwide Jan. 21 as part of The Met: Live in HD series.


Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center. 212-362-6000.