The Enchanted Island at The Met

The Enchanted Island at The Met
What happens when writer-translator-composer-director extraordinaire Jeremy Sams brings together two parts Shakespeare and liberal doses of Handel, Vivaldi, and Rameau? Add to the mix Baroque specialist William Christie, director-designer team Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, and a fabulous cast of opera singers including David Daniels, Joyce DiDonato, Danielle de Niese, Luca Pisaroni, and Plácido Domingo. The result: an operatic confection called The Enchanted Island which premieres on New Year's Eve at the Metropolitan Opera, and is a modern-day take on the pastiche, an 18th-century musical-theater genre made up of pieces from existing operas and oratorios paired with a new libretto. In Sam's English-language libretto, the plot shipwrecks the lovers from A Midsummer Night's Dream on Prospero's island from The Tempest. For a magical evening of comedy, fantasy, romance and aural and visual splendor, Sams added a full-fledged, masque-like ballet extravaganza in the middle of Act II and two glorious, show-stopping deus ex machina appearances by Domingo as the sea god, Neptune.

"The Enchanted Island gives us a real opportunity to do the traditional things that happen in Baroque entertainment—spectacular costumes and amazing set pieces", says director McDermott. "It's an extraordinary operatic entertainment that includes some of the best Baroque music".

According to Sams, "the intention was just this: to find a way of presenting rare but marvelous bits of music from the whole century of the Baroque era, (1650-1750) which you wouldn’t hear otherwise". Yale University music scholar Ellen Rosand advised on the music selection, which includes everything from Handel's well-known Four Coronation Anthems ('Zadok the Priest') to a Vivaldi obscurity found ten years ago in a Dresden library, and additional pieces by Rameau and Leclair. Sams decided that since most of the music wasn't going to be famous, he would use a story that would be quite familiar, much as Handel did in his time. The new language is rhymed and inspired mostly by the 18th-century writers Dryden and Pope, but in a form that's slightly more accessible to a 20th-century audience: "We have no 'thee' and 'thou', and have opted instead for 'you' and 'yours', but the grammar is 18th-century Baroque verse."

McDermott and Crouch, the duo behind London's Improbable theater company, are known for mixing puppetry, projection, and improvisation in their shows; they are an ideal match for a work that mixes the old with the new. According to the pair, The Enchanted Island production does exactly that, making liberal use of period-style Baroque set design, including layers of beautifully painted flat scenery — "lots of cut-out waves", says Crouch—while also incorporating modern elements like video projection on scrims, which will be created by Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer of 59 Productions, the team behind the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Satyagraha and its 125th Anniversary Gala. The world of Prospero's island is magical, so expect plenty of fantastical animations and dazzling visual effects as well as an enchanted mini-menagerie. "We like the idea of early exploration and those botanical drawings that scientists and explorers made back then", says Crouch. "We're playing a little bit with engravings of animals, making hybrid animals where I'll take half of an elephant and join it to the head of an eel. Having a bit of fun, really."

One thing that will certainly delight audiences is the length of the show. Sams made sure to offer an alternative to the usual four-hour Baroque opera. "I wanted to cut it very much to the pace of a Broadway show", says Sams. "It's quite important, I think, that people leave the theater wanting more rather than less."

The Enchanted Island debuts as the centerpiece of The Met's New Year's Eve Gala with an additional nine performances running through January 2012. For more information about this 'new' Baroque delight, click here. It will also be shown Live in HD in 1600 movie theaters around the world starting on January 21 2012. For the movie times, click here.

G. Schirmer, Inc. and the Music Sales Classical Group of Companies are proud to be the world-wide rental agents for this exciting new addition to the operatic repertoire. Contact us for additional information or materials.

This article was adapted from Tom Samiljan's article for the Met's Season Book.

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