Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Tempest


Today was the simulcast of Thomas Adès's The Tempest from the Metropolitan Opera.  This opera lies much closer to Shakespeare's play of the same name than did The Enchanted Island, which we all loved very much.  It's modern, generally like the clip in the previous post and the one above.

There is Prospero, well sung by a tattooed Simon Keenlyside, who is a bitter old man who has been living on an island for 12 years with his books on magic, his daughter Miranda, sung by Isabel Leonard, his slave spirit Ariel, sung by Audrey Luna, and the former King of the island Caliban, sung by Alan Oke.  They are a pathetic group.  Caliban is an ugly monster who stalks Miranda and hopes to marry her.  Ariel is a slave to Prospero and has been promised freedom at some point.

That's two baritones, a mezzo-soprano and a coloratura soprano.  A very strange coloratura soprano.  Ms Luna has an incredible whistle register which is where the part of Ariel mostly lies.  The Queen of the Night in Flute just has her occasional leaps to high F's, but Ariel's part goes to a high G and hangs around above a high C for extended stretches.  I've never heard anything like it.  It was well and enthusiastically done, but gee.  In one spot she sings "Bow wow, bow wow."  Ariel is made of air.  Perhaps it makes an odd kind of sense.  This is the only thing about the opera that draws your attention to the singing. 

Prospero has received news that those who banished him to this island, the King of Naples and Prospero's brother Antonio, are passing by in a ship.  His sources are presumed to be magical.  He commands Ariel to sink their boat and bring them to the island.  Prospero has his revenge and everyone is happy at the end.  In their miserable, sniveling ways.  Except his precious daughter Miranda has fallen in love with the King's son Ferdinand.

The music is all like the sample.  Played by the fabulous Metropolitan Opera orchestra, it makes a different impression than my previous encounter.  The general impression is of disintegrated fragments of harmony and phrase.  There isn't much in the way of flow.  However, it has its own distinctive sound.

The text is almost Shakespeare, but not.  We hear Miranda declare "O brave new world" in the right place.  But why couldn't they have used:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong,
Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell.

instead of the prose version?  As part of Prospero's revenge, Ferdinand, sung by Alek Shrader, is told that his father has died in the shipwreck.  We get something more modern sounding and not at all poetical, though it generally rhymes.  How does one manage that?  There is no antique vocabulary.

Robert Lepage was more suited to producing The Tempest than he had been for The Ring, perhaps because as a modern opera it could be performed by young people capable of swinging from chandeliers and falling through holes in the floor.  It didn't always make sense, but it looked good, worked fine and made the performances more interesting.

We got to the end and felt little enthusiasm, either in our theater or in the Met audience.  I managed a bravo for Keenlyside who was really quite good.

3 comments:

Bruce said...

considering your praise for Moby-Dick, I was going to ask your opinion on Ade's Tempest (which I haven't heard yet)...then found this and...evidently Ade doesn't displace Heggie in your rankings; should SFO do this one?

Dr.B said...

Ades is a modernist. Heggie is distinctly postmodern. That is if I understand these words correctly.

I don't see how SFO could possibly top the fabulous cast of The Tempest at the Met. This is a complex comparison. I'll think it over.

Dr.B said...

There is no standard repertoire version of this plot. There are times when the text here is annoying. It's too soon to decide, but it might become commonplace.