The old saying, “you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl” is true. I am a city girl now a country gal who still enjoys the wonders of the city. Here in our quiet countryside communities of Sweden, we can enjoy a bit of the cosmopolitan city life of New York. Thanks to Peter Gelb of the Metropolitan Opera House of New York, we are able to enjoy HD broadcasts of the opera season, right here in our Swedish countryside.
We were able to enjoy a world premiere opera The Enchanted Island. This new opera utilized the music of 18th century composers, Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau and Leclair. A new libretto written by Jeremy Sams uses the four lovers from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream while also incorporating Prospero’s Island from The Tempest. All of these ingredients produced a most enchanting Baroque opera.
The Metropolitan orchestra was honored to be conducted by the distinguished William Christie.
A short synopsis of The Enchanted Island :
Prospero played by the wonderful countertenor David Daniels gave a command to Ariel , his sprite servant whose freedom he controls played by Danielle De Niese a soprano, to cast a lover’s spell on Ferdinand to fall in love with his daughter, Miranda.
While Ariel was beginning her instructions, there were two couples who had become shipwrecked and separated from each other. This situation gave way to offering the ingredients for both the comedy and heartache in this opera.
Ariel makes all the wrong matches. When Sycorax decides after learning of Prospero’s plans for his daughter Miranda and realizing that Caliban wanted to marry her also; that Helena, one of he shipwrecks newlyweds would be a great match for her son.
Meanwhile, Ariel had mismatched everyone and was having a difficult time finding that elusive Ferdinand. While Ariel was in search of the right Ferdinand, each couple seemed to be happily basking in their newly found love, including Caliban whose happiness was a wonderful thing to see.
The love spells were broken and all the matches fell apart as each realized, they really were not in love. When Caliban looses his love Helena, his sadness and grief is palpable. He is thrown into the depths of a sadness I have never seen before in any other opera. Caliban, played by the Bass Baritone Luca Pisaroni, went from childlike delight at finding his new love to the saddest creature ever. Not only was it heard in his voice but his body language showed the anguish of his loss. All of this, with the beautiful score being played in the background by the fabulous Metropolitan orchestra, there was no doubt that Caliban had been thrown into the depths of depression by his loss.
Caliban’s mother Sycorax played by the fantastic Mezzo Soprano Joyce Di Donato, sang the most beautiful aria to her sad son Caliban all about love and broken hearts. She sang of a mother’s difficult job to try to protect her child from this kind of pain and sadness. She sang to her sad son straight from her heart. She sang of her own anguish at not having the power to protect her son from the heart-break of love. Her anguish must have filled the air in the Metropolitan Opera House in Manhattan as she sang to her son, because as I watched this in my tiny theater in the Swedish countryside, I felt it sep in my heart.
As a mother, I am aware of the need and the expectation that we have the power to protect our child from the hurts and pains of life. The terrible truth is, we can not. We can only be there to collect them as they fall , cushion that fall the best we can, hold them and remind them that hurt is a part of life and that you will always be there for them and to love them.
This is what Sycorax did for her son Caliban. I have only been so moved by such a scene on the stage once before; that was a scene from Madam Butterfly. Then I cried as a woman understanding Cio-Cio San’s loss of her love and her eventual feelings of betrayal. In this opera, I cried as a mother , helpless to keep painfully sad experiences from the life of her son. My tears flowed…
In the meantime, Ariel is still having a difficulty locating Ferdinand and goes beneath the sea to consult with Neptune. She needs his help locating Ferdinand.
The moment the audience realize that Neptune is the Met’s beloved Tenor Placido Domingo, there was an eruption of thunderous applause! It was wonderful to hear and I really wish that I was sitting in the opera house at that very moment. He looked magnificent as Neptune!
Once the audience saw Ariel make her appearance beneath the sea in her diving gear, the audience broke out in delightful laughter. This opera, took us to great heights and depths. It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster.
Ariel finally was able to find Ferdinand with Neptune’s assistance and each of the shipwrecked newly wed couples found each other and were blissfully in love, once again. Miranda was united with Ferdinand. Caliban hoped that he would one day find his true love. Ariel won her freedom from Prospero and Sycorax transformed into a beautiful self-assured , ready for the world , new woman.
Prospero, at the urgency of Neptune, begs for forgiveness from Sycorax for all the bad things he has done to her and her son Caliban and returns the island to her.
As Neptune explains the virtues of mercy and forgiveness, Sycorax accepts Prospero’s apologies and extends her hand of forgiveness. With the help of the fabulous Metropolitan chorus, there was song and beautiful music to celebrate joy, peace, forgiveness and love.
Needless to say again , but I must, I had an enchanting evening at the opera in the Swedish countryside!