In Review > North America

The Tempest

The Metropolitan Opera

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Act III of The Tempest with Shrader, Leonard, Burden, Keenlyside, Del Carlo and Spence
© Beth Bergman 2013
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Keenlyside and Luna, Prospero and Ariel at the Met
© Beth Bergman 2013
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Leonard and Shrader in The Tempest © Beth Bergman 2013

Thomas Adès's The Tempest, an elegant, sophisticated opera adaptation of Shakespeare's romance, arrived at the Met on October 23 in a sumptuous production directed by Robert Lepage. The star of the occasion, not surprisingly, was the composer, who conducted his own work, just as he had at the 2004 world premiere, at Covent Garden, and in the opera's 2007 revival at the Royal Opera House, which was recorded by EMI. This was easily the most beautifully sung — and brilliantly played — performance of a new work that the Met has presented in years. The principal cast, most of whom were making role debuts, was in generally superb form, as was Donald Palumbo's Met chorus. Perhaps most impressive was the work of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, which delivered its considerable best under Adès's baton, sounding well-rehearsed and confident in a complex, difficult score that draws much of its power from the composer's ravishing command of orchestral color and dramatic mood. The Tempest is an unusually well-balanced work; the play of vocal line against the orchestra is masterful throughout, nowhere more hauntingly so than in the Act III quintet passacaglia that is the musical and dramatic climax of the opera. The Met reaffirmed its reputation as the home of the greatest opera orchestra in the world.

Although its physical beauties could not be gainsaid, the production itself left a more equivocal impression. Unlike previous stagings of The Tempest at Covent Garden and Santa Fe, the Met's Tempest did not present the action in any variety of island landscape; in a witty use of imagery that gave a firm nod to the site of Prospero's usurped dukedom, Lepage and his designers set The Tempest within the auditorium and stage of La Scala, allowing Prospero to literally stage manage the movements of the visitors from Milan and Naples, as well as the residents of the island. The scenery, by Jasmine Catudal, the costumes, by Kym Barrett, the lighting, by Michel Beaulieu, and the video imagery, by David Leclerc, were individually lovely, but their cumulative impact was dulled by Lepage's uneven deployment of the characters and chorus within the La Scala landscape; the blocking was often either static, as in the extended Act I scene between Prospero and Miranda, or fussy, as in the Act III episode of Ariel's appearance as a harpy. The opera's purely comic interludes involving two stocious castaways also could have been staged with more point and economy; these scenes fell a mite flat on opening night, despite the efforts of Kevin Burdette and Iestyn Davies, two expert singing actors, as Stefano and Trinculo, respectively. 

Simon Keenlyside's charismatic, singularly dark portrayal of Prospero stood at the center of the action, conjuring the exiled Duke's emotional isolation as well as his formidable intelligence. Isabel Leonard, surpassingly fair of face, figure and voice, was a perfect Miranda; tenor Alek Shrader was equally well cast, vocally and visually, as her handsome prince, Ferdinand. Coloratura soprano Audrey Luna, costumed in a Lady Gaga-esque ensemble, contributed a musically and physically fearless performance as Ariel, whose vocal line lies impossibly (and sometimes cruelly) high. William Burden offered a well-considered, aristocratically sung performance as the grief-stricken King of Naples; his fellow tenor, Toby Spence, an incisive actor who sang the role of Ferdinand with great distinction at Covent Garden and at Santa Fe, proved equally persuasive as the nefarious Antonio. Less effective were John Del Carlo, whose Gonzalo was dramatically apt but vocally shaky, and Alan Oke, who commanded the notes but not the anguish of the unfortunate Caliban. spacer


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