I am still not exactly sure why, but I watched the DVD of the Met’s ‘baroque pastiche’ The Enchanted Island over the weekend. I saw this live way back when, primarily because Joyce DiDonato was in it, and my stance as far as she is concerned is that if there is a thing she is in and I am in the general vicinity of the thing, I am going to buy tickets. Sometimes even if I am not in the general vicinity of the thing, I will make arrangements to be in its vicinity at the appropriate time, and I will buy tickets.
When I saw this in the opera house, it was entertaining enough. The staging effects are charming, Danielle De Niese is preternaturally cute, I got to hear Placido Domingo (!) and Joyce DiDonato was singing baroque music and strutting around in a brightly colored feather cape and an amusing hat. As nights out are concerned, it was pretty ok.
But as far as DVD experiences go, this is probably one to avoid. First of all, despite the fact that this is a pastiche of ‘greatest hits of baroque opera’ and thus a person might reasonably want a list of what the actual arias actually were, the booklet is mum. Lots of photos, but as far as original sources for the music are concerned, the booklet makers ain’t talking. My theory is that given that the production’s English text is so eye-stabbingly awful, the Met was afraid the ghosts of Handel and Vivaldi might sneak up on the librettist in his sleep and mace him with a bassoon, so they’re trying to keep the whole thing on the down-low.
The unfortunate thing about this is that there is some good singing in here, and some excellent music. William Christie is the conductor, and he knows what he is doing. The overture, for example, which is taken from Handel’s Alcina has a sort of crisp, squared-off feeling to it, especially in the first section. And the performers are first rate. The evening that I saw this live David Daniels was sick, so they made some internal adjustments to the cast, and in general my impression then was of some very nice countertenor singing. With Daniels in the mix the same thing is true. I do not have a passion for countertenors in general, but given what he’s being asked to do, he does it well. And this goes for everyone else, too. The music is great music, the singers can more than do it justice, but the text and the story are utter non-starters. (And some of the material that DiDonato gets here, if you want to hear the original version, sung equally well, just find yourself a copy of her Furore album.)
In fairness. There was one part that was funny. When Prospero and Ariel believe, wrongly, that they have found Ferdinand and are trying to greet him with open arms, a little banner appears in the back, with balloons, that says WELCOME FERDINAND. The fellow who isn’t Ferdinand looks nonplussed and says he certainly will if he encounters him. To this, though, I feel obligated to add that when you are in search of something nice to say, and you end up devoting an entire paragraph to a minor gag that, when you get down to it, turns on the ambiguity introduced by the convention, which I never really even considered until just now, that with large ‘welcome’ banners you are allowed to leave out the comma – when you end up here, I think you have reached what they call the bottom of the barrel.