Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Common sense about the Met's The Enchanted Island

When the Met did The Enchanted Island Martin Bernheimer tore it to shreds, and many others followed (almost word for word). Yet many enjoyed it.  At the cinema I went to, the audience were cheerful even though the opera lasted a long time. What was the fuss about then? Partly, it was the word "pastiche" which means something negative in modern English. So people worry that if they'd had a good time, they'd be showing "bad taste", even the ones who claimed to know pastiche meant something different 300 years ago. But "purist" is a snotty 20th century concept, often employed by people too insecure to let on that they don't know what they're talking about. Real "purists" would have recognized in The Enchanted Island a true example of baroque spirit.

In baroque times, composers churned out dozens of opera to entertain their audiences. No qualms about recycling good ideas. Scores weren't printed, and copying expensive. In any case, audiences liked hearing tunes they recognized. No recordings to freeze productions into fossils. Similarly, audiences had no hang-ups about endlessly rehashed narratives.  Complicated plots weren't a problem for those who read Tasso and Metastasio in the original.

Perfhaps part of the negative reception was that Peter Gelb attracts so much hate that no-one could bring themselves to accept that The Enchanted Island was pretty good. Not genius, but fantastic theatre. Had it been premiered in Europe, it would have been a success (remember the Glyndebourne Purcell The Fairy Queen, (see here), also William Christie and Jeremy Sams? Both of them know their baroque better than average.  This is what I wrote about the Met's The Enchanted Island last January "Met Enchanted Island - deeper than expected".
Now here is someone else, a baroque specialist who's seen it and comments positively too. He also dismisses the idea that hiding the list of items was a kind of conspiracy, as some suggested. Some who know the original works the bits came from recognized them anyway. The writer also praises the stagecraft which was amazing - exactly in the true spirit of baroque extravagance. How could anyone miss Placido coming out of the sky? Or that boat, flying in from the wings? Live, it must have been so over the top!  True baroque spectacle. Now THAT was a proper use of the Met's thing for expensive machinery and extravagant display. (though in fact it was cleverly done rather than gargantuan).

Here's the link: to Joel Cohen's article in the Boston Musical Intelligencer, and thanks to whoever sent it to Norman Lebrecht. 

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