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Mixed-Media Extravaganza -- and a Global Message

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Possibly the best word for it, and it's meant approvingly, is 'farrago.'

New York's Metropolitan Opera is currently wowing much of its faithful audience and, as hoped, enticing a newer public (which looked to me quite a younger one) with its decidedly multimedia -- and multi-sourced -- confection, The Enchanted Island.

Animated video effects are piled, in helter-skelter profusion, on top of great music that has been pretty seamlessly cobbled together from Handel, Vivaldi -- plus some French baroque composers like Leclair the Elder and Rameau. Add all that to a story lifted, but of course elaborated upon, from Shakespeare -- mainly The Tempest, but including a stray plotline from A Midsummer Night's Dream -- and you've got an extraordinary cross-platform communications extravaganza.

Boldly fusing one media mode with others provides some extra-rich showcasing for the musical and thespian talents of stars like Plácido Domingo, David Daniels, Joyce DiDonato and Danielle de Niese. And just for good measure the whole experience is infinitely shareable, in the best new traditions of our digital universe. It's captured on DVD of course, and also will be shown, in HD in the Met's Encore series, in city movie theaters from Anchorage, Alaska to Waukesha, Wisconsin, and internationally from Australia to Uruguay.

Here is de Niese as the sprite Ariel performing in this segment, which as it happens lacks the show's usually omnipresent visual pyrotechnics -- the better, I guess, to let us concentrate on her compelling (and very, very baroque) vocal ornamentation:

The entire piece, with its wholly new libretto devised and written by Jeremy Sams, was inspired by the 18th century tradition -- not unlike like our own widespread tendency to copy-and-paste -- of repurposing music and lyrics to create fresh pastiches and masques. Fortuitously I saw it on Monday, just after I cracked the spine (oh yes, in hard-copy, taking one of my breaks from the digital) of an avidly-awaited book published that very day by one of Africa's -- no, the world's -- great multi-disciplinary artists, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, who is at home equally on the page, in the theater, on the screen or at the podium.

With his record of fighting for freedom through constantly self-renewing creativity, the former James Ngugi (a name he threw off as a Christian, colonial yoke) can rightly be said to represent in real, turbulent modern life the aspirations that are celebrated in the powerful and fantastical renderings of The Enchanted Island.

In the Met's production, as in the Bard's original, the tough struggle for liberation from tyranny both physical and mental is palpable (The Tempest itself is replete with references to Europe conquering the so-called "New World", along with that world's resistance) and Ngugi's freshly-minted Globalectics is a stirring mediation on those same themes.

What Ngugi calls a drive to "decolonize the mind" must, he argues, follow the rebellions against imperialist rule, and also accompany (in a clarion call to latter-day freedom-lovers across Africa, Asia, south and central America) the subsequent -- indeed some very current -- uprisings against post-colonial dictatorships.

I'm undeniably sensitive to mediums of human expression as well as its content -- so I was struck by learning that Ngugi drafted the first book that he wrote in his native Gikuyu language (after pointedly abandoning English) on post-colonial jailhouse toilet paper. Kenya's Vice-President Daniel Arap Moi, later to be president almost-for-life, had ordered him thrown into the notorious Kamiti Prison.

With greater democracy in Kenya nowadays, he enjoys a life teaching in New York and California and is perfectly at liberty to come and go to his homeland.

My gratitude welled for Ngugi's forceful eloquence when the entire Lincoln Center cast ended the evening with a heart-stirring anthem "Rejoice" (score by Handel) once Prospero, the Enchanted Island's dictator, had finally released his opponents and slaves -- and, it should be said, his own daughter, too -- from his complete command and control.

And in keeping with Ngugi's portrayal of how the oppressor always comes to be oppressed himself, we could even rejoice in the autocrat gaining his release as well.

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Read more of David Tereshchuk's media industry insights at his weekly column, "The Media Beat," with accompanying video and audio. Listen also to The Media Beat podcasts on demand from Connecticut's NPR station WHDD.