Monday, January 23, 2012

The MET Opera Live Feed: The Enchanted Island

A couple years ago my Grandfather took me to see the Metropolitan Opera's The Barber of Seville. We didn't go to New York, we only paid $25 for the tickets and we watched it on a screen. But we did see it live!

The MET Opera does this fantastic thing where, to bring their work to more audiences, they have a live feed at select movie theaters throughout the country (and in Canada!). The productions are phenomenal, the tickets are a fraction of the price, subtitles are easily read along the bottom of the screen and (in my opinion) you get a much better view of the stage. You can see the actor's faces - something not possible with any tickets I'd be able to afford at the MET. Opera is not the most accessible form of theater, and the use of a live feed to movie theaters has made a huge impact on Opera as a whole. I've found that it's best to order my tickets at least a month in advance, because there's a very good chance that the showing will sell out a couple weeks beforehand. It's also best to show up to the theater about half an hour before the show starts if you want to get good seats. I'm always surprised and delighted to see the range of ages sitting in the audience (although admittedly there's not a lot of diversity).

Opera is suddenly understandable and accessible in a way its never been before.

This past weekend I introduced Katieschmatie, Chef Hubby and some other friends to the joys and delights of the MET's Live Feed when we went to see the World Premiere of The Enchanted Island.  It starts off as being based on Shakespeare's The Tempest and then begs the question - what if Ariel messed up the spell that created the tempest that brought Ferdinand to Prospero's Island, and the Honeymooning lovers from A Midsummer Night's Dream (Helena & Lysander and Demetrius and Hermia) were brought there instead? It's a completely new story, with very modern language (Seeing Ariel sing "Duh" was one of my favorite moments of the show) set to Baroque arias that aren't well known even in the opera world.

Baroque opera is defined by love. Jealous love, intimate love, lost love... its defining characteristic  is having lots of arias full of love - and when you have three sets of lovers as well as three more characters who desperately long to be part of a set of lovers, there are plenty of opportunities for all sorts of arias. And the singing was incredible. Ariel stood out to me as being incredibly talented with a beautiful voice, fantastic comedic timing and being absolutely gorgeous. I loved every moment of her on stage.
Caliban tugged at my heart. Looking absolutely grotesque (we found out during his interview at intermission that it takes the poor guy 45 minutes just to get his make-up done!), Caliban managed to steal my heart when he fell head over heels in love with a spelled Helena, not realizing that her love was a result of his mother, Sycorax's, magic.
He went from being brutish and gorilla like to adorably play-ful, like a puppy... and when Helena breaks through the spell binding her and runs from him, it's like watching someone kick that playfully adorable puppy. You can't help but feel bad for him. You also can't help but admire his talent, as his fantastic voice rings out from underneath the breastplate he wears over his torso.

Providing plenty of comedic humor are the lovebirds from Midsummer's, looking a little worse for the wear once they're on the island. Sure they're shallow and vapid, but they're also pretty funny.

The fact that this is a modern opera is brought home when, as Lysander and Demetrius' rivalry becomes physical, Demetrius finds himself on the receiving end of a brutal titty-twister. Ancient opera this is not!

Sometimes, however, a story line become complicated enough that the resolution can only come about at the end of a God. Neptune, played by the World's Greatest Living Tenor (according to some) Placido Domingo, provides that role. And you can tell that this role was inserted for him and written for him - it's also the first time he's had the opportunity to play a God - and what an entrance he makes!

Ok, personally I thought that the character of Neptune was kind of silly and unnecessary... but he does help wrap up the plot. It's not the strongest plot in the world. What I do love about Neptune is the way he comes onto the stage. The MET, for the first time ever, used a combination of scenery and projection to create the most fantastic scenes on the island and under the sea. Fish swim through Neptune's watery domain, vines grow and writhe on the island, and every five minutes I found myself muttering under my breath, "That is so cool!"

The story begins, however,  as centered around Prospero and his quest for "forgiveness and peace" and Sycorax, who had once loved him but was eventually spurned by him and now lives out her life on the "dark side" of the island.

Sycorax had the most incredibly haunting notes of the entire production. I don't know how she did it, but in one of her arias her voice would start out so soft, but with the purity and clarity of a bell, no vibrato at all... just a glorious pure tone that swelled and you realized with shock that it was coming from a human throat and not an instrument. She gave me goosebumps.

Prospero, on the other hand, confused me at first. If you don't know what a Counter-Tenor is, it's a full grown man who sings like a woman. With my eyes closed, listening to Prospero scolding Ariel, I pictured Cinderella's step-mother in my head. Opening my eyes and seeing a menacing figure of a man was... confusing to say the least. I couldn't figure out why on earth the part of Prospero would be a voice part that seemed so different from what I thought the character called for. The mystery was cleared up when I read an article about how the Opera was written, in which it was revealed that all Baroque Operas require a Counter-Tenor. So it's just following tradition. Eh.

All in all... it was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon even though it wasn't the best Opera I've ever seen. It was fun to watch something new and we laughed a lot and were very impressed by the scenery, projection and overall look of the entire show. My friends are now hooked and we'll be going to see more of the MET's live feeds (with more established operas) throughout the Spring, which I'm very excited about. Opera is bigger than life, filled with glorious scenes and fabulous costumes, and the singing is pretty incredible. Since we can have it at such a good price and such a convenient location, why not?!

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE MET Live in HD! Please let me know when you want to go again - or to a live opera!