Jeremy Sams’ Opera the Enchanted Island is a Delightful Movie!

What’s a Pastiche?
The blurb I saw for The Enchanted Island called it a “pastiche,” which sounded suspicious and unappealing. A sort of fake, thrown-together entertainment, including some of the old masters, chopped up and stirred together. It wasn’t a “real” opera like Mozart or Puccini; it was a patchwork, a collage of music and words.

And that music was from the Baroque era: Vivaldi, Rameau, Handel. Although I love Handel’s Messiah and look forward to it every Christmas, in general I’m not a big fan of Baroque music. The tinkling harpsichord, the restrained counterpoint are nice-but when it comes to emotional satisfaction, they just don’t do it for me.

Thus I went to this opera movie (The Met Live in HD, January 21, 2012) only because it was a dreary winter Saturday, and because my friends were going.

Low Expectations, Grand Results!

Sometimes it’s good to have low expectations. I loved this opera, as did the entire audience, who stayed until all the encores-and there were quite a few-were done. The music, conducted by William Christie, the sets, the singers and the English libretto by Jeremy Sams were all delightful.

Aren’t Most Operas Pastiches?
Now that I think of it, most operas are pastiches of some sort. More often than not, the story is borrowed, from a legend, novel, story or play. Shakespeare is often dipped into, for operatic material, as is the Bible. New words and music are added.

Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor is taken from Sir Walter Scott’s novel, The Bride of Lammermoor. Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel is, of course, a well-known children’s folk tale. Verdi’s La Traviata had its origins in Alexandre Dumas’s novel La Dame aux Camelias . Samson and Delilah , by Camille Saint-Saens, is based on the Biblical tale.

Jeremy Sams’ Blend of Shakespeare and Baroque Music Works!

So why am I begrudging Jeremy Sams for taking two plays from Shakespeare, The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and making them into an opera? He had himself a jolly old time listening to all kinds of Handel, Vivaldi and Rameau, and choosing from among those composers’ works-many of which were operatic pieces we don’t know today-arias that suited his story and characters. Then he wrote a libretto, in charmingly clever rhymed couplets, with the wit and humor of a Shakespearean comedy, made modern.

Librettist Sams has said that when he couldn’t find exactly what he needed-pieces of music to fit very specific situations in his story-he would go to his conductor, William Christie, or to his very knowledgeable Baroque consultant, Yale’s Ellen Rosand-and they always managed to come up with exactly what he needed. The music chosen for this pastiche was perfect–and, for me, surprisingly beautiful.

Sams, who also has Broadway experience, wrote his libretto in English, graciously removing the thees and thous of earlier centuries and making this opera based on the classics a very modern, accessible piece.

Sams gave the singers a lot of creative leeway as well, since there were no prior standards for their roles. Danielle de Niese, for example, told us during the intermission that she used a little Puck and a little Tinkerbell too, in constructing her delightful Ariel.


So, my expectations were all wrong about this opera. It was fantastic. I looked up the word “pastiche” and discovered it means a light-hearted imitation of another’s style, or a hodgepodge. It comes from the Italian “pasticcio,” which means “pie,” or “mess.”

Mess?! Not at all! The Enchanted Island was an enchanting musical confection, a coconut cream pie of an opera, light, lovely and delicious.

Source: “Creating the Enchanted Island,” by Jeremy Sams

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