The Enchanted Island

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Handel; Vivaldi; Rameau; etc
LABELS: Virgin Classics
ALBUM TITLE: The Enchanted Island
WORKS: The Enchanted Island
PERFORMER: David Daniels, Danielle de Niese, Joyce DiDonato, Luca Pisatoni, Lisette Oropesa, Layla Claire, Paul Appleby, Elliot Madore, Plácido Domingo, Ashley Emerson, Monica Yunus, Philippe Castagner, Anthony Roth Costanzo; the Metropolitan Orchestra Chorus and Ballet/William Christie; dir. Phelim McDermott


From the plush modern instruments with their Baroque trills to the giddy fusion of historical stage machinery and hi-tech video projections in Julian Crouch’s set designs, The Enchanted Island is intensely relaxed about anachronism. Commissioned by New York’s Metropolitan Opera, directed by Phelim McDermott and conducted by William Christie, Jeremy Sams’s 21st-century pasticcio is an all-you-can-eat operatic buffet. Its arias and ensembles are cherry-picked from works by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau, Campra, Rebel, Leclair, Ferrandini and John Weldon and are set to new words in a romantic comedy fashioned from two Shakespeare plays, The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

With a running time of 180 minutes, The Enchanted Island’s length certainly conforms to historical precedent. A hearty appetite is essential in a polyglot spectacular that boasts a sleep scene, a ballet, two tempests and a deus ex machina appearance by Plácido Domingo (Neptune) to the music of Zadok the Priest. Alas, Sams’s greed has got the better of him in an intricate libretto that sees Helena, Hermia, Demetrius and Lysander shipwrecked on Prospero’s island by Ariel (Danielle de Niese), while the much darker domestic stories of Caliban’s (Luca Pisaroni) hopeless love for Miranda (Lisette Oropesa), and the bitter emnity between Prospero (David Daniels) and Caliban’s mother, Sycorax (Joyce DiDonato), come to a simmer. Daniels’s hauteur, Oropesa’s sweetness and Pisaroni’s loneliness lend this frothy fantasy some fibre, while DiDonato’s transformation from dreadlocked hag to anguished parent to triumphant cougar packs a hefty emotional punch.


Anna Picard