By Lynne Gray, PhD
Note: This opera can be viewed at www.metopera.org
Tuesday, May 12
Thomas Adès’s The Tempest ~ 2Hrs. 22 Mins.
Starring Audrey Luna, Isabel Leonard, Alek Shrader, Alan Oke, and Simon Keenlyside, conducted by Thomas Adès. From November 10, 2012.
The composer himself conducted this Met premiere of his internationally successful opera based on one of Shakespeare’s last great plays. Robert Lepage’s inventive production concept – an opera within a magical opera house – features the charismatic baritone, Simon Keenlyside (we saw him last week as Hamlet) as the sorcerer Prospero, who conjures the storm that shipwrecks his enemies and sets the dramatic action in motion. Isabel Leonard (we saw her last week as Marnie) and Alek Shrader (he was Camille in The Merry Widow) are the young lovers, Miranda and Ferdinand. Alan Oke sings the sinister Caliban, and Audrey Luna gives a particularly memorable performance in the stratospherically high – and high flying – role of the sprite Ariel.
Robert Lepage has extended the opera’s aura of magic into a sort of metaphor for theatrical magic itself, envisioning Prospero, the usurped Duke of Milan, as an 18th-century impresario of Milan’s La Scala, which he has recreated on the magical island of his banishment as a reminder of home.
“In those days, La Scala seemed a very magical place because it had all of the newest state-of-the-art machinery,” Lepage explains. “The beach where everybody is marooned is actually on a stage that’s been planted there and constructed by Prospero.” Each of the three acts shows us a different perspective — first from on the stage itself, looking out into the iconic La Scala auditorium with footlights, prompter’s box and all; then from backstage; and finally, from the auditorium — to fully delineate the space of this “opera-within-an-opera house.”
Although set in the late 1700’s when La Scala was built and based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest (c. 1610), this is an unabashedly contemporary opera, and the music, while mostly tonal, is decidedly modern. The talented librettist, Meredith Oakes devised a structure that is both elegant and straightforward by transforming Shakespeare’s original verse into pithy, condensed rhyming couplets that echo the play’s most famous passages, but also make them eminently singable.
As you may remember from Shakespeare, Prospero is the former Duke of Milan and has been stranded on a mysterious island for the last 12 years since his throne was usurped by his brother Antonio, apparently with some help from the King of Naples. Having taught himself the powerful art of sorcery from books he found on the island, Prospero has enslaved the island’s only two inhabitants, Ariel, a magical sprite and Caliban, a “savage” whose mother was the sorceress who once ruled the island. Caliban, although now under Prospero’s control, schemes to marry Miranda and become the island’s ruler. Prospero’s old enemies from Milan and Naples have undertaken a sea voyage with their courtiers and the King’s son Ferdinand, and that has finally brought them into the range of Prospero’s powers.
As the opera begins, Miranda is horrified to observe a violent storm at sea that wrecks a ship and appears to kill all on board. She fears, rightly, that the storm has been conjured by her father. He tells her the ship’s occupants are his old enemies from the court of Naples and he has shipwrecked them as punishment. They are all alive and well, however, and are in fact, on the island.
As Prospero manages the interactions of all the players on his island, the rest of the story explores the dynamics of enslavement and liberation, as well as the transforming power of love and compassion. The turning point comes when Ariel finally tells Prospero that the suffering he has caused his enemies to endure would soften even Ariel’s own heart if he were human. That is the moment when Prospero realizes he may have gone too far and he must stop. He sought to set things right in his world through his magic, and he understands that it has now been done. He renounces magic, setting Ariel free and then breaking his staff before heading off to the boat to return home with the others to a united Naples and Milan. We are left with the understanding that the power of love and forgiveness is far stronger than even magic.
1. A scene from Act 1 of Thomas Adès’s “The Tempest” with acrobat Jaime Verazin as Ariel’s double.
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
2. Simon Keenlyside as Prospero and Isabel Leonard as Miranda in “The Tempest” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times