Only a night before Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in the Big Apple, the Metropolitan Opera brewed a tempest of its own.
Robert Lepage’s new treatment of Thomas Adès’ operatic interpretation of “The Tempest,” which had its world premiere in 2004, debuted at the Met this October. Featuring a spectacular cast, the production also included dazzling visuals.
Adès, like the magic-wielding characters onstage, conjures an enchanted world with his vivid score. At times, the opera is short on melody, but as the performance progresses, and new characters are introduced, the music becomes more melodically rich. Adès offers a nice variety of touching moments, comic passages, and intensely dramatic scenes, and every detail of this intricate music is mirrored perfectly in Lepage’s production.
In this staging, the exiled Milanese duke Prospero transforms his surroundings into Milan’s landmark opera house, the Teatro alla Scala. The theater’s backstage machinery enables the sorcerer to perform all of his powerful magic. Lepage’s production brilliantly marries traditional theatrical devices with animated projections, acrobatics, fantastical costumes, and magical sleight-of-hand to breathe life into the otherworldly island.
Fortunately, an ensemble of talented singing-actors expertly performed Adès’ challenging music. With a solid, authoritative sound, veteran baritone Simon Keenlyside brought a masterful portrayal to the role of Prospero and expertly conveyed the emotional journey his character takes—from overbearing father and vindictive brother to the understanding and noble figure.
Two fantastical creatures—the ethereal spirit Ariel and the savage Caliban—accompany Prospero on his island. Audrey Luna was simply spellbinding as Ariel. Her music lies extremely high in the soprano register, but Luna’s sound was always comfortable, clear, and pleasant. Luna’s performance went far beyond beautiful singing, as she would perform crouched on all fours, perched high above the stage, or flying from a chandelier. Alan Oke delivered a similarly commanding physical performance as Caliban, singing while twisted in a variety of contortions. Oke sang with a bright sound which was appropriately penetrating and haunting.
Rising stars Isabel Leonard and Alek Shrader played the young lovers Miranda and Ferdinand, respectively. The two worked well together both dramatically and vocally, as their stage chemistry was charming, and Shrader’s light tenor was a nice complement to Leonard’s lush mezzo-soprano.
The comic duo Stefano and Trinculo, performed skillfully by bass Kevin Burdette and countertenor Iestyn Davies, provided a welcome contrast to the heavier points in the score. Toby Spence seemed uncomfortable in the higher passages of his role as Antonio, but Christopher Feigum as Sebastian, John Del Carlo as Gonzalo, and William Burden as the King of Naples contributed much with their strongly sung and acted performances.
From the podium, Adès extracted a textured reading of this complex score from the Met Orchestra, and with its high-quality musicianship, the Met Chorus provided some of the most enjoyable moments of the evening.
“The Tempest” offers Columbia students a captivating night at the theatre. The contemporary music can be off-putting to those unfamiliar with this style, but the production is a visual spectacle not to be missed—think Cirque du Soleil goes to the opera.
Performances of “The Tempest” run through Nov. 17, when the opera will be presented live to movie theaters worldwide. For more information, visit the Met’s website, www.metoperafamily.org, or call the box office at (212) 362–6000.