NEW YORK—Do New Yorkers need another storm? They may, if it is a simulated one onstage and is part of a sparkling new production. “The Tempest,” which begins with a shipwreck in foul weather, is one of those rare events at the Metropolitan Opera—a work conducted by its composer, in this case, Thomas Adès.
The opera had its world premiere at Covent Garden in 2004 (also with Adès conducting) and the new production was directed by Robert Lepage. Meredith Oakes’ libretto is written in rhyming couplets, which seem to have inspired the composer even though they are certainly a long step down from Shakespeare’s glorious language. (Unlike, Boito’s imaginative libretto for Verdi’s “Otello,” no one can reasonably contend that Oakes’ revision is an improvement on the original.) Nevertheless, with this cast and the music, the work moves the audience in a way that few contemporary operas manage to do.
British baritone Simon Keenlyside is a magisterial Prospero, both vocally and dramatically. Indeed, the role was written with him in mind. Here, Prospero is younger than he is usually depicted in the play. As his daughter, Miranda, native New Yorker mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard is charming.
One interesting choice by Adès was to make Caliban a tenor. He lived on the island before Prospero was shipwrecked there and would have been the ruler of the island except for the fact that Prospero enslaved him. Often, in stage versions, he is played by a deep-voiced actor, sometimes African-American; one famous example is James Earl Jones, who was Caliban during the first season of the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in Central Park. (The racial element in which “The Tempest” is presented as a parable about colonialism is not present in the Met’s production. Rather, the work is presented as an opera within an opera; Lepage has said that he envisioned Prospero as an 18th century impresario of La Scala. I found the opera house backdrop to be distracting.)
In the opera, Caliban is both menacing (his designs on Miranda) and pitiable (when he is left alone on the island at the end). British tenor Alan Oke is outstanding in the role. Oregon soprano Audrey Luna is the fairy Ariel and she hits the many requisite stratospheric notes, though neither she nor anyone else could make the words comprehensible since the part is pitched so high. (The titles projected on the seats and in front of the stage were especially helpful even though the opera is in English.)
Also noteworthy in the cast are tenor Toby Spence as the treacherous Antonio (Prospero’s brother) and tenor William Burden as the King of Naples, who mistakenly believes his son Ferdinand (Alek Shrader) has drowned. In fact, the young man has met and fallen in love with Miranda, whom he marries at the end, when all the characters are reconciled. Kevin Burdette and Iestyn Davies are amusing as the comic Stefano and the drunken Trinculo. John Del Carlo is sympathetic as Gonzalo (who previously supplied Prospero and Miranda with food and clothing when they were set adrift as a result of the machinations of Antonio).
“The Tempest” will be performed at the Met on Nov. 10, 14 and 17. It will be in movie theaters on Nov. 10 at 12:55 p.m. as part of “The Met: Live in HD” series. Soprano Deborah Voigt will host the transmission and conduct backstage interviews with the stars. For schedule and locations, go to metopera.org.
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