Monday, January 30, 2012

Profound pastiche

Caught the final performance of "The Enchanted Island," the Metropolitan Opera's revival of the baroque form pastiche, where bits and pieces of various operas as cobbled together to accommodate a particular constellation of stars and resources. Librettist Jeremy Sams and Arts Florissant director William Christie ranged widely in their borrowing, from Handel and Vivaldi and Rameau to a host of lesser-known baroque composers, and from operas to sacred cantatas and even some coronation anthems. It was a hoot! And divine sung by a stellar cast, notably Joyce DiDonato, Danielle de Niese (Melbourne-born!) and, stepping in for an indisposed David Daniels, Anthony Roth Costanzo.

I knew some of the music (from "Semele," "Ariodante," "Les Indes Galantes" and "Griselda") but could actually place only one at the time, the finale of "L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato." But that was enough, as I could feel the appropriation, and approve of it. Here as in the original work, it comes at a moment of resolution, and feeling the pathos of the other work (one of my favorite pieces in music) flow into this one deepened the experience.

For most of the viewers, most if not all of the music will have been delightful new discoveries. (For instance there's some amazing nearly atonal work from one of Handel's Marian cantatas - who knew there were such!) The pastiche-y part will have been felt and approved instead in the storyline, which weaves together Shakespeare's "Tempest" and "Midsummer Night's Dream." How can you do that, you ask? And yet they did, and it didn't feel cheap or tacky but like spending more time with old friends, learning more about them. Pastiche, because of its postmodern uses, sounds frivolous, but "Enchanted Island" shows it can be profound play.

The performance was sold out (and not just, I think, because you could hear what my Japanese housemate called なまドミンゴ namadomingo - Placido Domingo live - in the part of Neptune). I hope it enters the repertoire, spawns imitations, and maybe even a revival of some of these old operas, like Vivaldi's "Griselda."

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