Thomas Adès’s The Tempest

0 of 5 stars

Adès
The Tempest – Opera in three acts to a libretto by Meredith Oakes after Shakespeare

Prospero – Simon Keenlyside
Ariel – Cyndia Sieden
Caliban – Ian Bostridge
Miranda – Kate Royal
Ferdinand – Toby Spence
King of Naples – Philip Langridge
Antonio – Donald Kaasch
Stefano – Stephen Richardson
Trinculo – David Cordier
Sebastian – Jonathan Summers
Gonzalo – Graeme Danby

The Royal Opera Chorus

The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Thomas Adès

Recorded 23 & 26 March 2007 at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London


Reviewed by: David Gutman

Reviewed: August 2009
CD No: EMI 6 95234 2 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 57 minutes

tessitura taxes even Simon Keenlyside’s glorious instrument. (The nobility of character evoked in Sibelius’s extraordinary incidental music is eschewed by Adès’s opera until it is almost over.) That Keenlyside manages to sound emotionally engaged in such a curiously imagined, hectoring role is a tribute to his skills but he does sound strained at times. The stratospheric coloratura Ariel of Cyndia Sieden has aroused plenty of comment, mostly admiring. The downside is that many of her notes can only be attempted as a sort of yap, the words inaudible. Whichever way you look at it, composer and librettist have jettisoned the literary priorities that would have preoccupied a previous generation pondering a project on this of all texts. Contemplating the ocean’s lower depths, Ariel flies higher still – the part is plainly conceived with surtitles in mind. Throughout characters are deliberately cast against expectation, emerging as unexpectedly Brittenish: Caliban morphs into Peter Pears while Stefano and Trinculo provide ‘proletarian’ comic relief that is merely boorish.

And yet, if the above sounds negative, Adès also provides set pieces that are properly transcendent, pools of resonant stillness that it is difficult to imagine more effectively realised. The glories of Ariel’s “Five fathoms deep” (sic), Caliban’s “The island’s full of noises” (sic) and the concluding passacaglia and epilogue have won sufficient acclaim to need no further endorsement from me. The visionary (again vaguely Purcellian) grandeur of Caliban’s Act Two aria is masterly, even sublime, inspiring Ian Bostridge to great heights of expressiveness, although his burst of eloquence is downright peculiar given the gruff declamation to which Keenlyside is condemned. Adès is wonderful at instrumental textures that seem on the verge of dissolution, if less original when it comes to evoking the tangible reality of the opening storm. This lacks a certain oomph as a recording though its overtly Sibelian trajectory seemed to work well enough in the theatre.

The recorded sound is more than serviceable notwithstanding the usual problems with extraneous stage noise. Headphone users will be more aware of singers wandering from microphone to microphone. One wonders why the opera has not yet been released on DVD. The visual aspect of the production – in particular Wolfgang Göbbel’s glorious lighting – helped bind together the disparate musical ingredients, creating more consistent magic than can be conveyed by sound alone. The high-tech laser effects and video sequences must be taken on trust. In the performances, Philip Langridge’s Naples, articulate, dignified and deeply felt, made a big impression; as a recording his veteran status is rather more apparent than his virile projection to the back of the amphitheatre. Kate Royal as Miranda and Toby Spence as Ferdinand make the transition without loss.

The orchestra is mostly precise and punchy, the chorus much less so. But no one interested in contemporary music of whatever kind can afford to miss this. EMI is to be congratulated for offering the full libretto (whatever you may think of it) and an understandably enthusiastic booklet note from Tom Service. “The Tempest” may not be the best British opera since “Peter Grimes” but it a very considerable achievement.

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