The Enchanted Island – an opera learning experience

Watching The Enchanted Island posed three firsts for me:

    1) Baroque
    2) English
    3) Getting my brother to watch opera (!!)

    The last one was a surprising success…the first two, not so much.

    I was intrigued by the concept when it came out in 2011, and it stayed in the back of my mind, till I finally got the DVD from the library.  The Enchanted Island is a so-called opera “pastiche” by Jeremy Sams – if his name rings a bell, he composed the score for Persuasion.  He collected different Baroque operatic pieces (mostly arias) and wrote English lyrics for them, basing the plot on a combination of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

    This production gave me pretty mixed feelings.

    I’m a little – is disturbed the word? – that Sams took whatever Barqoue opera pieces he wanted and put completely new words to them.  Part of me is always a purist to the composer’s original intentions, and though their works have long since been in the public domain, at times it makes me uncomfortable to hear their music in someone else’s context.  This isn’t really limited to this opera; some movie scores do the same thing.  Mixed feelings all the way around.

    That said, I was pretty impressed by the creativity of this opera, the clarity of the singing (it is all in English, though I still used subs), and the overall design.  The steampunk elements were a nice touch.  Ariel’s feathery costume was fun, and both the forest and underwater scenes were beautifully vibrant and detailed.  The Shakespearean fantasy fits in well with the setting; it probably appeals to a broader audience than, say, a typical Verdi, and musically it may be more accessible to some people than Wagner (though my first opera was Lohengrin, and I loved it).

    I’ve discovered I really, really dislike Baroque opera.  I knew I disliked Mozart operas – this is only a tad better, but it’s in the same realm of stop-and-go, stop-and-go singing.  It is also highly repetitive; there was one aria the sorceress was singing, and it just went on and on with the same words.  So, there’s that.  Also, countertenor – don’t get me wrong, I know it’s Baroque, but it takes some getting used to.  (Case in point: whenever I listen to Che faro, I listen to Hvorostovsky, so I’m already biased.)

    I’d have to say the best character and performance was Danielle de Niese as Ariel.  She is a great actress and brought a lot of needed energy to the role, which helped move some scenes along.  I can’t overemphasize how important acting is in opera, and she went above and beyond and made the role her own.  Could be part of the reason the first disc was better than the second disc, actually.

    This is far from a must-see, in my book, and it seems to be overrated in general.  However, it is recommended by most other reviewers, so if you’re bored or looking for new operas to watch, you might give this one a try.

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