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The Enchanted Island in HD - better than in person, well not exactly

Wednesday night, there was a cross-country one-night-only encore of the Metropolitan Opera's HD transcription of The Enchanted Island, based loosely on Shakespeare's The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream. In Kansas City, the showing was at the Cinemark 14 The Palace, on the Country Club Plaza. The music, well, the music is a pastiche, using music from Handel, Vivaldi, and Rameau. A light crowd attended Wednesday at the Palace.

Joyce Di Donato receiving an honary doctorate at the Julliard School
Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Joyce Di Donato at Opera News Award program
Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images

Stylistically, borrowing music from others, or from one's own previous work, was a common Baroque practice. The general manager of the met, Peter Gelb, has invested himself in the Met in HD live series, all over the country, at the same time. With today's technology, the feat can be done with reasonable facility. He also conjured (pardon the pun) the idea of this opera, and assigned the "writing" to Jeremy Sams. Exactly who chose each piece by each composer can only be surmised.

Built in a series of "numbers," many of the scenes resembled the early masques that pre-dated acted plays and operas, where characters stand and deliver. For other scenes, there was physical interaction, sometime bordering on slapstick. Nude chorus was implied by having choristers stand behind Baroque-style painted nude flats. The essence of the plot was as preposterous as the building of it sounds, yet, by the end of the show, one could identify with the repentant Prospero, and rejoice with the couples who had lost their Puck-like spells, and were reunited with their proper mates.

Evaluating the music must be done in light of technology. The sound level was set as high as for a standard theater showing of any film, and did not match the decibels found in any opera house in the world. No one in a live audience listening to non-electronically-enhanced voices has considered the sound of voices painful; at the Palace it was, at times.

Dorian Griffin attended the showing at the Palace on Wednesday, as well as the premier at the Met on December 31, 2011. Although the cameras allow more intimate views of characters (to the point of seeing the dried, chunky makeup on Caliban's face) the intimacy of the direct voice to ear connection is missing. Seeing the screen version was, according to Mrs. Griffin, a good remembrance of her earlier experience, but not one to be traded as equal. Part of the quality of a great voice is to be able to reach the rafters in the back of the room with the softest pianissimo; perhaps that should be a goal of a digital reproduction of a performance.

That being said, The best singing came from David Daniels, countertenor, as Prospero; Joyce DiDonato, soprano, as the sorceress Sycorax; Danielle de Niese as the air spirit Ariel; and Luca Pisaroni, bass, as Caliban, the monstrous, sensitive, son of Sycorax. Placido Domingo filled the position as everyone's favorite uncle and god of the sea, Neptune. His best work this decade is in the role of conductor.

Danielle de Niese had some impossibly florid fast passages, typical for Handel, which she sang with ease, clarity and drama; her flirtatious mannerisms made her pants role highly androgynous.

Luca Pisaroni's liquid bass was equally strong expressing rage or pathos. His grotesque character was fleshed out with very jagged sixteenth notes passages that seemed to run forever without a breath.

David Daniels' countertenor developed through the opera as totally masculine, that just happens to be high. Remarkably, there was only one time that a low tone forced him into a baritone range, for probably two or three notes. His ability to maintain the well-developed falsetto well into the bass clef was admirable. His transition from fiend to his final “This my hope for the future," presented a characterization with a full range of emotions and depth of character.

Joyce DiDonato was fabulous. Whether singing fast and florid, or slow and angry, her timbre was evenly full, athletic, and believable as the captured and displaced lady of the island. She was initially clothed as a sea hag, with heavily clumped hair, and torn, old, clothing. For the final make-everything-right scene, no queen was more elegantly attired, and the colors matched Prospero's finery; her voice matched the majesty of her presence.

The solo ensembles were contrapuntal and exceptionally well sung. Each character's innermost thoughts were painted with speed, timbre, volume, and intensity, appropriate to the state of those thoughts' development. This resulted in a woven texture of sound, with the most poignant thoughts rising to the top of the sound and receding again to deliberation.

Matching the sound level in a movie theater to that of an opera house would go far to making this means of sharing the New York experience around the world successful, for a profit. That is the intention, isn't it?