The Met Premieres The Enchanted Island on New Year’s Eve

“This is kind of the only big social event in town tonight,” The Observer’s tablemate remarked over lobster salads on the Metropolitan Opera House’s Grand Tier on New Year’s Eve. He was quite right: with many of the usual suspects hunkered down for the season in Palm Beach and Vail, a single elegant event—the Met Gala—was enough to accommodate all the brave souls left in town who preferred evening gowns and Champagne to pajamas and prosecco.
The Met’s premiere of its latest offering, The Enchanted Island—a Baroque opera for the age of the DJ, which mashes up story elements from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream with music by composers including Handel and Vivaldi—left gala-goers, including stars Plácido Domingo, Joyce DiDonato, Renée Fleming and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, smiling and ready to drink to the new year. In her sophomore year as the event’s chairwoman, Adrienne Arsht glowed in a simple white gown and enough emeralds to make us concerned as to whether her neck was properly insured.
“I wanted everybody, when they leave the opera, not to leave the moment,” Mrs. Arsht said, explaining that several key elements of the décor—including sea-foam tablecloths and copious glitter on the centerpieces—were inspired by the opera’s production design. “And of course, my favorite course is dessert,” she went on. “I believe in using a dinner plate for the desserts.”
Mrs. Arsht happily introduced us to a guest at her own table, the Pulitzer-nominated playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith, who seems lately to be making a career out of artist residencies; Ms. Smith ticked off a long list of institutions at which she’s been in residence, including MTV, the Ford Foundation, the Aspen Institute and the Center for American Progress. Up next is Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
Ms. Smith explained that it’s pretty easy to roll with the punches, as far as these things go: “When the MTV people asked me to come be artist-in-residence there, they said, ‘We just want you to come and hang out with us,’” she reported. “And when the head of Grace Cathedral just asked me to come be artist-in-residence there, which I’m going to do in January and February, she said, ‘We just want you to come and worship with us.’ So I thought, ‘Okay, so MTV worships partying, and you worship God.’”
Knowing Ms. Smith to be politically minded, we asked her what she’d name as a New Year’s resolution for America at large. “We’re not going to be able to rely on traditional leadership right now,” she answered. “So the only way to come forward is with a sense of service, and—to be perfectly tacky, but it is New Year’s Eve—a little bit more love.”
Soprano Marina Poplavskaya, the toast of last year’s gala after her star turn in La Traviata, was certainly feeling the love. She gushed about “the design, the costumes, the music, the directing, the conducting, all the singers” of The Enchanted Island. Her praise was so effusive that we had to wonder whether she wished she could trade her current role in Faust for one in this opera. “Noooo,” she answered slowly, perhaps a bit offended. “No! But I love my colleagues, and all my friends did a great job today. They shared their emotions and they shared their possibilities.”
A nervous fan dropped by to meet Ms. Poplavskaya, so we shifted our attention to director Bartlett Sher, whose Broadway revival of Funny Girl was, last we’d heard, postponed. “Oh, my God, Funny Girl? Funny Girl?!” Mr. Sher asked, surprised, we suppose, that we still wanted to talk about it. “Yeah, Funny Girl is unfortunately not happening. I really wish it was, but it’s not. They didn’t have any money!” It sounds like it might have been for the best, after all, though: “I’m kind of enjoying the time off that I have from Funny Girl, to be home—I have two kids—to pretend that I’m not an absent father,” Mr. Sher said.
We’re much more excited about Mr. Sher’s next project, anyway: he just finished workshopping a musical version of The Bridges of Madison County, written by Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman and starring Kelli O’Hara. “I’m always embarrassed, like, ‘Oh, Bridges of Madison County,’” Mr. Sher said, mumbling the title. “But it’s actually amazing, I’m telling you.” We assured him we believed him, then excused ourselves back to our table; we didn’t want to miss the evening’s highlight, fireworks just outside the Grand Tier’s window at midnight.