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2004, London ROH, The Tempest, cast-interview

Transcript of the interval discussion from the BBC broadcast of

“The Tempest”

The BBC asked the main singers from the production to discuss their feelings about the opera. Those taking part were:

TempestPhilipLangridge Philip Langridge (PL)            King of Naples

TempestSK Simon Keenlyside (SK)        Prospero

TempestChristineRice Christine Rice (CR)               Miranda

Tempest_IanBostridge Ian Bostridge (IB)                  Caliban

TempestCyndiaSieden Cyndia Sieden (CS)               Ariel

Charles Hazlewood: Thomas Ades may well be aware of the challenges he has presented the singers with. But what do they really think of the piece?


TempestSK2 PL:    I mean it’s been a tricky journey.

SK:   Why don’t you all say what you
really think! (General laughter)

PL:    I had my doubts about… I’d have to

SK:   Not… I don’t mean about the
production… This time…

PL:    No, no, no I’m talking about the

SK: I mean the piece

PL:    I first started looking at the music and I thought “Well, I like my part.” It was full of character. I looked at the other parts and thought they were also the right characters. (CR agrees). But then gradually when we started rehearsing I thought, “I’m not sure this is going to work”, because we did each little bit. (General agreement). The first time I got an inkling that may be there was something more there, was when we ran a section, and the actual pulse of the music, the sort of ‘line’, if you like, the dramatic line is there. But an opera is made up of parts, and then I thought, you know, to put the parts together. And now we have the orchestra I find it astounding.

CR:   Initially I was surprised that they didn’t just use the Shakespeare as the libretto. My part is quite high for a Mezzo. So again, you know, you are just judging from the black marks on a page. And it’s almost impossible to gauge what it’s going to be like. And then…and also you normally approach a role with so many sort of references already there at the back of your mind. Even if you’ve not consciously sought them, you’ll known which type of singer did the role before, heard recordings. So that literally just having a book, you know, some pieces of paper presented to you and that’s the fresh start of something…

SK: Mmmm

CR:   The sort of building on it when you are rehearsing. You’re building relationships with other singers, you hear their music – which, of course, you haven’t heard before. And… mmm… it’s been absolutely thrilling. (General agreement). It’s my first experience of doing brand new opera. Definitely one I’d want to repeat.

IB:     It’s been mine as well, and I felt the same as you about the text. I was worried about TempestChrisIanPhilthe text to start with, and also I thought my role was very high. But I talked to Tom about that, and now I’m convinced that he’s probably right about it. And he wouldn’t change it, and he’s got very good reasons not to change things. In a way because I feel the piece is put together organically and if you was to unpick one bit…mmm… the whole thing would have to be reworked.

CR:   And actually…

IB:     It’s taken him two and a half years to write, and it would take him another two years to rewrite….

CR:   Yes.

IB: …to change it. And you can hear it’s amazingly old fashioned, and nineteenth century, and symphonic in the way that bits of music are taken up and repeated underneath. So you can barely…

CR:   Absolutely.

IB: …know that they are there. And Tom’s pointed things out to me which are just very bound together.

CR:   But I mean the music offers so much that, actually, you wouldn’t need the Shakespeare on top, I don’t think.

IB:     I think it would box him in.

CR:   It does, I think. I think, actually, the simpler lines really work.

IB:     I mean comparatively, if I think of Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is the other Shakespeare opera I’ve been in, the Benjamin Britten. It’s got wonderful music in it, but I don’t feel… I feel it’s patchy and doesn’t hang together. And, for example, the lover’s music in Midsummer Night’s Dream is very unconvincing. I feel this is… I mean… ‘course I’ve only been listening to it for four weeks, and it’s a big thing to say, but I feel it’s much more, a bigger arc. And think the Shakespeare words for Britten did box him in, in Midsummer Night’s Dream.

SK:  And I was worried. I think Meredith’s libretto is very clever, and wonderful, and I thinkTempestSK1 I’ve come round to what you two think now… about it. And, funny, I had the same worries about the tessitura, the height as well. That at first I thought “I’ll try not to be here”. (grins) I’m sorry, you are all laughing (general laughter) “because the high notes are IMPOSSIBLE”.

CS:   I think all of us feel that way. It’s like “Woah, What the heck!”.

CR:   I rather feel everybody was feeling that. Or maybe they’re just going to, you know, put it all down a third. (General laughter).

CS:   He wrote it in the wrong key! It’s the wrong clef! (General laughter).

SK:   “I’ll see first if I can get it into my body”, and then, then I intended to object. (General agreement). I thought, “Right! I’m going to get it into my body and that’s IT!”, and then say, “Look! – SEE! I can’t do it!” But after a couple of months of struggling and screwing the music up, and ironing it, and screwing it up and ironing it… (general laughter)

CS:   When I first got the music I…I…I was terrified of it, because I… I can’t practice it. I couldn’t practice it enough to really feel what it was going to be like in my body. To learn the notes I had to, you know, I…would just look at it, you know, and then sort of crawl up into a little ball for a week… (Laughter).

SK:   Did you say that you would never have accepted it had you seen the score before you signed the contract? (Grins).

CS:   Well probably. You know, you think, “Oh WOW, NO! This is impossible!”.TempestSK4

PL:    I thought that about it, your role. (General agreement). I thought “Nobody’s going to sing that!”.

SK:   And, nobody’s heard a squeak from you. Everyone else was muttering backwards and forwards, “Where’s the music?”

CS:   I thought the same thing. That I would learn it and then realise… I’d learn the notes, and then I’d be able to say “NO! This is not singable!”.

CR:   But if you can’t sing it then, you know that no-one else would be able to sing it.

CS:   Well…

CR: He might have to rewrite it.

CS: You know, it actually is vocal. the other thing I was very worried about was that the first scene is by far the most treacherous thing that I’ve ever seen. And then it gets… my role goes lower and lower through the whole opera.

CS: You know, it actually is vocal. the other thing I was very worried about was that the first scene is by far the most treacherous thing that I’ve ever seen. And then it gets… my role goes lower and lower through the whole opera.

SK:   It’s the same for me.

CS:   But not having gotten the third act, until whenever we did, I was really terrified. Because I thought, “ if I had to do the same amount of singing in that same tessitura in the third act, then, maybe, I will hurt myself”.

TempestSK3 SK:   I was trying to explain it to my Dad the
other day. Trying to prime him before he
comes. Because.. but now, if he turns to me
and says “I really don’tl like it”. I’ll be… I’ll
be irritated. But it is a marvellous piece, and
I don’t know whether that’s because we’ve
spent the time with it, but I want my Dad to
like it! (Laughter).


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