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Like the Met, but only better

An enchanted evening at the New York Metropolitan Opera cost no more than $35 thanks to the Gilbert and Sullivan Society.

'The Enchanted Island' was the latest offer in its Met Opera on Film series, shown without the cost of airfare, Customs hassle or hotel bill.

The production was a delightful mash-up of 'The Tempest' and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' set to some evocative Baroque music.

And though you weren't really at the Met, in some ways the experience was even better.

The high quality film production, shown on a wide screen, allowed you to see the performers and set in far more detail than you might have been able to had you been limited to whatever seats you could actually afford at the Met itself. You certainly would not have been able to hear what the performers thought of their roles in an informal chat during the intermission.

Opera is not a genre I am overly familiar with, and the knowledge that the performance would last three-and-a-half hours was a cause of some concern, but I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and came away with a far greater understanding of and appreciation for the genre.

Inspired by the 18th century tradition of pastiche, 'The Enchanted Island' is a new work with a libretto written by Jeremy Sams set to the music of Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau and others. Ariel is instructed by Prospero to raise a tempest to bring Prince Ferdinand to the island so that he may fall in love and marry Prospero's beautiful daughter, Miranda. Ariel, however, has some Puckish misunderstanding and brings instead the newly-wed couples Helena and Demetrius and Hermia and Lysander. Throw in Caliban and his mum, Sycorax, and you have more than enough confusion to keep the plot bubbling for over three hours. I was particularly intrigued by the re-examination of Prospero and Caliban's characters and the more clearly expounded themes of freedom and tyranny, love and forgiveness.

Danielle de Niese was absolutely brilliant as Ariel and her relationship with David Daniel's Prospero cunningly explored. Caliban, played by Luca Pisaroni, is far more human and sympathetic than in the original play, and Sycorax, developed into a complete character beautifully portrayed by Joyce DiDonato, added a whole new dimension to the magical and emotional elements. Placido Domingo as Neptune, who emerged from a fantastical grotto complete with mermaids, offered the humans the example of the paradoxical servant king and power tempered with mercy.

The set was magnificent, a technological wonder, and the costuming rich in detail. Adding to the lavish production were elements such as Caliban's dream, a masque performed by creatures from a Hironymous Bosch painting.

Though 18th century in tradition, the production was very much a 21st century one, with themes feminism and environmentalism for example for modern sensibilities, and other deft touches such as Ariel in a diving helmet, adding humour.

Quite from being left on my own to work my way through an unfamiliar plot in a foreign language, there was a variety of hand-outs thoughtfully provided to aid my understanding, subtitles (though it was sung in English) and insightful interviews with the performers.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Society will be presenting Puccini's 'Madama Butterfly' on April 28 and Verdi's 'La Traviata' on May 12, both at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute.

Useful website: www.gands.bm.

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Published April 18, 2012 at 2:00 am (Updated April 18, 2012 at 9:18 am)

Like the Met, but only better

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