ADÈS The Tempest • Thomas Adès, cond; Simon Keenlyside (Prospero); Cyndia Sieden (Ariel); Ian Bostridge (Caliban); Kate Royal (Miranda); Toby Spence (Ferdinand); Philip Langridge (King of Naples); Donald Kaasch (Read more class="ARIAL12i">Antonio); Stephen Richardson (Stefano); David Cordier (Trinculo); Jonathan Summers (Sebastian); Graeme Danby (Gonzalo); Royal Op House, Covent Garden O & Ch • EMI 95234 (2 CDs: 117:24 Text and Translation)
Okay, attention must be paid. For several years now I’ve been admiring the work of Thomas Adès (b. 1971), but I’ve also been a little skeptical of the rush to his coronation as the great “successor” in the line of British composers such as Elgar and Britten. The music has been inventive, fluent, and unbelievably polished, but it has seemed that at least as much of his ascent has derived from his polymathic musicality, as a dynamite pianist, conductor, and overall charismatic presence. But his 2004 operatic version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest stakes the strongest claim yet to his status as the real thing. It’s given me great pleasure, and even astonishment.
The choice would seem in some way an extreme act of chutzpah, as classical music’s history is littered with the corpses of works that took on Shakespeare. But Adès had an ace up his sleeve from the beginning—Meredith Oake’s libretto, which is an extraordinary feat in its own right. Rather than edit from the original text, she has rewritten the play (another sort of hubris) into a more singable and comprehensible versification. On the one hand, much of the extraordinary language is blanched out, but what remains suggests the source poetry, and allows more musicality to come forward out of the words. It’s a tightrope act, but Oakes pulls it off, giving Adès ample room to exercise his gifts.
And gifts they are. The work, in three acts, moves with enormous energy and dramatic momentum. One is constantly led from one moment to another through a combination of rhythmic invention and real harmonic progression. When the music slows down, there’s beauty that justifies arresting the motion. The result is a satisfying dramatic arc over its two hours.
The work features one vocal innovation they’ll be talking about for years. For the role of the spirit Ariel, Adès has written the most consistently stratospheric part in the repertoire, a bit as though the Queen of the Night’s aria was stretched out to an entire evening. Soprano Cyndia Sieden steals the show simply by getting through the notes, but her performance is much, much more than that, a true tour de force. Often the words are unintelligible, but I suspect Adès calculated that the current omnipresence of supertitles would solve the problem, and he gave his musical fancy full rein. The result is original and spectacular.
One of the constant complaints about contemporary opera is that it may be dramatically effective and musically assured, but it lacks defining, memorable lyric moments, the sort of “hit tune” we can expect from any work of the repertoire. It’s a valid point, though now and then used too much as a club over new works before they’ve had enough time for any sensible assessment. But The Tempest has several of these, which are both original and related to earlier “templates,” but also without the aid of postmodern pastiche. Ariel’s act I aria, “Five fathoms deep,” is a magical, hypnotic stop of time. Caliban’s act II description of the island’s spirits is a sudden blossoming of near-Handelian harmony. Near the end, the villainous Antonio’s lament at his defeat has decided undertones of Renaissance dance music. And the reconciliation quintet, also near the conclusion, is a powerful chaconne that reminds one of the similar ensemble at the end of Le nozze di Figaro.
All performances are outstanding; it is only because of the superhuman demands put on Sieden that she is cited most highly here. I found Simon Keenlyside’s Prospero to be deeply affecting, countertenor David Cordier’s Trinculo foppishly comic, and Kate Royal’s Miranda ravishing. Ian Bostridge is dramatically and vocally on point as the “monster” Caliban (we can’t help but feel ambivalent about this character now, as it seems so much a caricature of native peoples being encountered and conquered at that historical moment by Europeans). Adès makes a counterintuitive choice in casting the character as a tenor instead of baritone or bass, though I do wish he’d stretched his imagination a bit more to find some sort of vocal technique to convey the character’s “otherness” analogous to that given Ariel.
The recording is from live performances in a 2007 revival. The composer is obviously a brilliant conductor, as the pacing and balances are superb throughout. The recorded sound is functional, though a little dark, rather like listening to an opera broadcast on radio. But all the music is clearly there, and that’s really all that matters at this stage. I suspect this piece is going to have many productions and recordings to come (it comes to the Met in 2012). For once, such recognition is truly deserved. Attention paid.
The Tempestby Thomas Adès Performer:
Jonathan Summers (Baritone),
Ian Bostridge (Tenor),
Simon Keenlyside (Baritone),
Toby Spence (Tenor),
Kate Royal (Soprano),
Philip Langridge (Tenor),
Donald Kaasch (Tenor)
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Featured Sound Samples
The Tempest: Act I: "Sir, have you recovered them?"
Act II: "Alive, awake"
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Great new opera!December 18, 2012By Weston Williams (Chicago, IL)See All My Reviews"The Tempest is a remarkably lyrical new opera, full of musical color and drama that already has the feel of a classic. The music is the showpiece rather than the story; a great deal of the Shakespeare has been cut for singability's sake, and the story sometimes seems a little fast at times as a result. However, the singability of the libretto and the performances of the singers creates a sense that you are missing nothing in translation from play to opera. That said, this recording has a few flaws. It is a live recording that contains all of the coughs and rustling of a live audience, and the sound quality is low due to rather poor mics and bad engineering. There is an audible undertone in certain thinly-orchestrated parts of the piece, and the chorus suffers a great deal from similar sound problems. Since this is at present the only recording of The Tempest available, I would thoroughly recommend it, and I look forward to any further recordings of the opera in the future."Report Abuse