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Silly, superficial, true to life: a Baroque lion’s take on the Met’s Enchanted Island

The purist Baroque pioneer Joel Cohen has been watching the Met’s potpourri on a television relay. Expecting irritation, he found a certain truth.

Here’s a sample:

What pleased me about this televised broadcast was precisely the silliness and superficiality of the presentation. Viewing the three hour long show on the tube was not totally dissimilar from taking in a Neapolitan opera from one’s own box at the theater.  During a slow bit on the screen one could move about, discurse to one’s neighbor, run to the fridge for a snack…now that’s a “historically informed” experience!

Another historical verity made evident again via the telecast is the relatively less-important role of the compositional ingredient in the whole operatic enchilada.  When “Ercole Amante,” with music by Cavalli, was given at Versailles to celebrate the marriage of Louis XIV,  contemporary accounts apparently neglected to mention Cavalli’s specially-commissioned music. What got commented on at the time were the impurgated ballet sequences by court composer Lully (as I recall,  Cavalli, disgusted, went home to Venice,  never to return).

And here’s Joel’s whole text.

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  1. Although I may agree with the end result, this essay takes the prize for vaunted rhetoric.

    Anyone that begins an essay quoting the words of Pilate to Christ and then proceeds to debate whether Cavalli’s horse farted towards the left or the right (general direction) on a particular Tuesday afternoon doesn’t deserve anything more than a guffaw.

  2. For starters Joel Cohen is not a Baroque man – he is largely involved with Medieval and Renaissance music. And Baroque opera, about which I assume you know little, is no more ‘silly’ or ‘superficial’ than any other opera – or indeed than real life, which at times can be far more inane and more superficial than anything Handel or Monteverdi ever produced for the stage.

  3. John Parfrey says:

    The Enchanted Island was billed by the Met as a pastiche. I did a quick search and found this definition for pastiche, which comports with the meaning I have always given to the word:

    “A pastiche is a work of art, literature, film, music or architecture that openly imitates the work of a previous artist, sometimes with the intent of satire. The word can also describe a hodge-podge of incongruous parts derived from the original work of others….In this usage, the term denotes a literary technique employing a generally light-hearted tongue-in-cheek imitation of another’s style; although jocular, it is usually respectful.”

    I think this in nearly every way fits with The Enchanted Island, a production which was lent considerable credibility by the presence of noone less William Christie in the pit. If I recall, Christie was interviewed during the Met Live performance a few months ago (I didn’t watch the recent PBS rebroadcast) and he seemed extremely pleased with the result. He knew the players in the pit weren’t playing period instruments, and with the ensemble’s size, some use of amplification, and not observing every rule of ornamentation (interesting – whose ornamentation rules would you use when you’re doing music of French, Italian and German composers), he seemed to completely understand the spirit of the whole affair and was joining in wholeheartedly (to the point of collaborating in its creation).

    I think Mr. Cohen needs to chill out a bit.

  4. José Bergher says:

    I saw “The Enchanted Island” twice. It was a delight. Great singing, great playing, gorgeous music from beginning to end.

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