Kronos Quartet, Hackney Empire, London
The Enchanted Island, Metropolitan Opera, New York / UK Cinemas/ Radio 3

Recital room revolutionaries rekindle their old fire, and a cut-and-shunt opera makes a movie

Formed in 1973, the Kronos Quartet has become a brand. Dressed down, heavily amplified, and lit in a purple haze, they symbolise a certain kind of cool. This is contemporary music packaged for the New Yorker reader who shops at Whole Foods, whose iPod shuffles twixt Hendrix and Webern, and whose favourite films range from Keaton to Kiarostami. When the lights go down, we could all be characters in a Jonathan Franzen novel: a little bruised around the edges but definitively urbane and smart.

In the Hackney Empire, one of three venues in the quartet's Barbican residency last week, the first half of their Made in America programme was too urbane for its own good. Once revolutionary, minimalism has become the art form of the establishment. Bryce Dessner's Aheym and Tyondai Braxton's Uffe's Workshop clung nervously to the Philip Glass model, while Missy Mazzoli's Harp and Altar was most interesting when it briefly shook off the bop-bop patterns and bloomed into a shivery rhapsody.

George Crumb's Black Angels inspired the quartet's formation. Written in 1971, in response to the Vietnam war, its angry beauty still burns brightly. Here the crude dig of the bow, the Hendrixian cadenzas, the mournful dances and the viol-like austerity of tone that were merely decorative in the first half of the concert had cogency and authority. The complex choreography of different soundworlds – solo cello with a ghostly trio of bowed musical glasses, dancing pizzicato duos, the whisper or tsunami of bowed gongs – was seamless, the interweaving of sarabande, lachrymae and lied intoxicating.

Like the Kronos Quartet, Jeremy Sams's Baroque pastiche The Enchanted Island could only have been made in America. Premiered by New York's Metropolitan Opera on New Year's Eve, broadcast on Radio 3 and relayed live to 70 UK cinemas last weekend, this fantastical confection wears its big budget on its frilly sleeve. Julian Crouch's Audubon and Inigo Jones-inspired designs mix painted flats with video projections. There are floating mermaids, magic spells, and a deus ex machina called Placido Domingo.

Handel, and his Venetian contemporary, Vivaldi, provide the bulk of the music for The Enchanted Island, with further material drawn from Rameau, Rebel, Leclair, Ferrandini and John Weldon. Sams's recitatives are long and angular, but the blending of French, Italian and English Restoration styles is admirably smooth. By melding the plots of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream and shipwrecking the latter's young lovers on Prospero's island, Sams has four more characters to shepherd than the average Baroque opera – a problem he resolves by losing one in a cave. His focus is the relationship between Prospero (David Daniels) and Sycorax (Joyce Di Donato), who scheme like parents in a messy divorce.

Phelim McDermott's light directorial touch results in a lack of cohesion. Almost every style of acting is here, from Baroque gesture to pantomime. Musically, there is greater unanimity, the Met's orchestra playing with short bows and long trills under William Christie. Whatever one's reservations about the Met's cinema style – mid-match interviews that treat artists as athletes, sponsors' name checks – most remarkable is how the hearts of an audience several thousand miles away can stop for Di Donato's "Hearts that love can all be broken" (from Ferrandini's Il pianto de Maria) and Daniels's "Forgive me" (from Handel's Partenope).

With Handelian pragmatism, Neptune's forgetfulness is flagged up in his first recitative, while his closing aria is set to Tamerlano's "Figlia mia" (Domingo). Danielle De Niese's Ariel gets the last showstopper, "Can you feel the heavens are reeling" (from Vivaldi's Griselda). By then, I didn't give a jot about honeymooners or mermaids. The tragedy beneath this supernatural romcom is one of good intentions and bad parenting, of love warped by disappointment. Miranda (Lisette Oropesa) gets her Ferdinand (Anthony Roth Costanzo). Caliban (Luca Pisaroni), with a face that only a mother could love, gets nothing.

Next Week:

Anna Picard hears Jonathan Harvey's Buddhist fantasy, Wagner Dream

Classical Choice

Andreas Scholl and Kammerorchester Basel perform Bach's cantatas Ich habe genug (BWV 82) and Gott soll allein mein Herze haben BWV 169) at London's Barbican Hall (Fri). Bill Bankes-Jones translates and directs Scottish Opera's new production of Hansel and Gretel at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow (from Sat).

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project