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.
(Previous section here.)
I found myself enjoying Rameau’s music more than I did Lully’s from a few weeks ago. It felt as if there were a little bit more color and variation in the orchestral writing. I noticed this with the woodwinds, e.g. with the bassoons during the ballet of the “Incas” section, as well as in the opening music to “les sauvages” and in bits of “le Turc généreux” — although some day I would like to find a French baroque opera that doesn’t have a “storm” bit in the music or make use of a wind machine. Please?
First of all, a slightly unusual sort of pattern is emerging with regard to university library DVDs of French baroque operas. Every single one I have checked out has been missing the booklet. Other DVDs have their booklets. But these do not. If there is someone collecting them, I would really like to hear the explanation for this.
What I said about Giulio Cesare earlier this week has been bothering me because I am not sure that I said it quite right. Also, I was thinking about the differences between the Sellars version of that opera that I recently watched and this one from Glyndebourne in 2005, which is musically excellent and immensely entertaining. These are two quite different productions. The Glyndebourne one is campy and funny and takes the story at its face value. The Sellars one — well, it’s not that it doesn’t take the story at face value, but the goal of the production seems to be to force the story to show itself in the worst possible light. There’s nothing wrong with such an approach in the abstract, of course, but it’s a lot less fun to watch.
So, very different goals with the opera. But there are aspects of these two productions which are strikingly similar.
The Met’s Enchanted Island is both very charming and sort of insubstantial. The impression one gets is that they are trying to give the audience the experience of what it would have been like to attend an opera in the eighteenth century, with the text in a familiar language, and the plot fairly contrived, and the whole thing not taken particularly seriously.
The overture is from Alcina, which makes perfect sense. Alcina is also an opera about an enchanted island. In an odd way, though, this choice undercuts what the Met is doing here, because one of the things about Alcina is that the music functions as a kind of metaphor for Alcina’s magic. The plot is creaky, but the music holds it together. In the case of The Enchanted Island, it doesn’t quite hold together. The magic hasn’t worked. The whole thing looks very pretty, and there are some nice moments in terms of music and singing, but it’s hard to care about it one way or the other. And it seems as if the production is out to charm the audience, or make us laugh, even at the expense of the emotions making sense. Ariel’s last aria, one of those baroque tour-de-forces, is followed by Ariel stopping short, plucking a little suitcase from the floor, and prancing off stage. It’s more about Danielle De Niese being cute than it is about whatever it was that she just sang.