2004, London ROH, The Tempest

The Tempest


Composer : Thomas Adès
Librettist : Meredith Oakes
Venue and Dates : Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 February 2004
Conductor : Thomas Adès
Director/Designer : Tom Cairns (with Moritz Junge)
Sets : Tom Cairns
Costumes : Moritz Junge
Lighting : Wolfgang Gobbel
Choreography : Aletta Collins
Performers :

Prospero : Simon Keenlyside
Miranda : Christine Rice
Ferdinand : Toby Spence
Caliban : Ian Bostridge (Christopher Lemmings 10 February)
Ariel : Cyndia Sieden
King of Naples : Philip Langridge
Gonzalo : Gwynne Howell
Sebastian : Christopher Maltman
Antonio : John Daszak
Stephano : Stephen Richardson
Trinculo : Lawrence Zazzo

Notes : The Royal Opera House has produced a short video clip of Simon and Cyndia Sieden in this production in 2004. Click here to play the video in  Windows Media Player

Click the photo for an Interview with the cast, 2004


See the “Scrapbook” for words written in 2006 by SK about this production and the revival in 2007


2004_TempestCG_rehearsal2 2004_TempestCG_rehearsal1



Andrew Clements for The Guardian, Wednesday February 11, 2004

Four star rating

Keenlyside plays Prospero as an unsmiling, bespectacled autocrat, but delivers his imprecations with immense power. Cyndia Sieden’s navigation of Ariel’s stratospheric lines is almost out of this world. Ian Bostridge plays Caliban as a kind of hippy leftover, but he does sing his big aria with beautiful judgment and care for every word. The rest of the cast, including Christine Rice and Toby Spence as the lovers, and Philip Langridge as the King of Naples, are equally vivid; the orchestral playing and choral singing under Adès is wonderfully alert.”


The Tempest triumphs: A leading article in The Guardian with a brief discussion of the singers. Thursday February 12, 2004

“Only time will tell whether the first night of The Tempest in 2004 was a moment to set alongside the first night of Peter Grimes in 1945 in the history of British music. But it felt that way in the theatre. With the dazzling exception of the American Cyndia Sieden as Ariel, this was a home-grown operatic big night, with the key roles taken by a wonderful young generation of British singers like Ian Bostridge and Simon Keenlyside. Mr Adès has provided Covent Garden and British opera in general with one of its great moments. The cheering from every corner of the theatre on Tuesday – orchestra pit included – felt like what it was: British opera’s equivalent of the England World Cup rugby win.”


We have liftoff: What’s the best way to promote a new opera? Follow Thomas Adès’s example and don’t even bother. Charlotte Higgins for The Guardian, Thursday February 12, 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/higgins/story/0,12830,1146140,00.html

No discussion of individual performances


A truly prosperous Prospero: Anthony Holden for The Observer, February 15, 2004

“Text apart, Adès and director-designer Tom Cairns have between them conjured up a magical island entirely persuasive as Prospero’s.”

…with Simon Keenlyside’s haughty if geekish Prospero towering over the proceedings like a beetle-browed ringmaster.


Involving and magical: Robert Hugill experiences Thomas Adès’s opera ‘The Tempest’, 19 February 2004


Prospero was sung by Simon Keenlyside wearing a ragged suit — half tail coat, half lounge suit — and with eye makeup reminiscent of the pop singer Adam Ant. Keenlyside displayed magnificent diction, rendering the surtitles superfluous whilst he was singing. Prospero’s music was arioso throughout the opera, effective but not always very magical.

“The night that we were there (Saturday 14 February 2004) the audience gave the opera a (well-deserved) tremendous reception. The Royal Opera had assembled a truly amazing cast of British singing actors (with Zazzo as just one American guest) who had done Adès and Oakes’ vision proud. The production is being taken to Copenhagen and Strasbourg and it will be interesting to see how the opera develops as different casts take possession of and develop the musical character of the piece.”


Ruth Elleson’s Letters from London February 2004 for Opera Japonica.


“The rest of the cast was the best of British – Simon Keenlyside singing with powerful voice and emotion as an embittered Prospero..”


A Most Auspicious Star: James Inverne looks at the white-hot career of composer Thomas Adès, artistic director of England’s Aldeburgh Festival. Opera News


“…a dream cast, drawn from the cream of English-speaking singers – Simon Keenlyside, Ian Bostridge, Cyndia Sieden, Philip Langridge.”

“The magician Prospero, played by Keenlyside, spends much of Act I hectoring in a dangerously high tessitura, and all the cast members must permeate a complex, tangled orchestral web of motifs and otherworldly melodies.”

“Keenlyside, who with amused understatement remembers the last-minute changes as ‘worrying’, was utterly bemused when he first received the role. ‘My first thought was, ‘This guy’s got some oral astigmatism,’  he says. ‘Like conductors, composers often don’t understand singing. And I felt that either Adès didn’t understand voices at all – having written music on the very edges of what is possible, the Ariel music seemed absurd – or he was brilliant. I knew that if it was singable, the effect would be drop-dead amazing. So I went into rehearsals at once very nervous and very excited.’”

“Keenlyside again: ‘My late singing teacher was in the first cast of Britten’s Billy Budd. I once asked him if he knew he was in a masterpiece at the time. He said that he did but left it up to history to shout about it. As rehearsals progressed, I came to feel the same about The Tempest.’”

”Keenlyside also found the music at times ‘almost unbearably lyrical.’”

“Adès has passed perhaps the most difficult test: singers love him.
’What is a genius?’ muses Keenlyside. ‘If it means possessing an ear into our humanity, then Adès’s sensitivities are of the highest order. The Tempest gave me a great role in a great work of art.’ He chuckles. ‘I don’t give many interviews either, you know. But I never really thanked Tom. And I want him to know it’s a wonderful piece, and he’s bloody marvelous!’ Adès may display stereotypical English reserve, but he doesn’t inspire it in others.”


George Hall for Opera News, May  2004 , vol 68 , no.11


“The result was often magical to look at. The central performances, too, from Simon Keenlyside’s authoritative Prospero to Philip Langridge’s careworn King of Naples to Christopher Maltman’s stern Sebastian and Gwynne Howell’s diligent Gonzalo, were all impressive, vocally and dramatically.”


Helen Wright for MusicOMH


“Simon Keenlyside leads the way as Prospero – the score is at times low for him, but he is, as ever, a commanding figure and when in the range for his voice to melt and caress it duly does so.”


Noises, Sounds, Sweet Airs From Young British Hope. Anthony Tommasini for The New York Times, February 23, 2004.

“Prospero, portrayed by the charismatic and elegant British baritone Simon Keenlyside, is a fearsome figure of righteous indignation.”


Blissfully calm after the storm: Rupert Christiansen reviews The Tempest for The Telegraph, 11/02/2004


“There’s an exquisitely beautiful masque scene, some arioso of swelling intensity for Prospero, a large-scale radiant ensemble of reconciliation and a wistful lullaby epilogue for Caliban and Ariel.”

“Ades presents his singers with considerable vocal challenges. Simon Keenlyside makes a magnificently authoritative Prospero, but even he finds the roaring of Act I a struggle.”


“Me and my monster” Ian Bostridge on singing Caliban
and on The Tempest in general

Storm on the wane. Warwick Thompson, 12 February 2004


“The singing, however, is uniformly superb. Simon Keenlyside is magisterial as Prospero, Cyndia Sieden negotiates the fantastically high coloratura writing of Ariel with breathtaking brilliance and Christine Rice has never sounded more full-toned as Miranda.

Adès has created something rich, strange and beautiful: but closer to oratorio than opera.”


Calm after the storm
Reviewed by Fiona Maddocks, Evening Standard (11 February 2004)


“But beauty is not enough. After a brilliant storm, the first act dragged, with a surprising lack of variety in the vocal writing. A startling exception was Ariel, sung somewhere above the stratosphere by the American coloratura soprano Cyndia Sieden. The idea of expressing Prospero’s ambiguous wisdom with unadorned rhythmic simplicity must have looked good on paper but sounded colourless, a waste of the superb Simon Keenlyside, one of the dream cast of British singers.

Only in the final act did Adès seem to find his true voice. The orchestra exploded and bubbled excitingly.

Supporting roles stole the limelight: every time Christopher Maltman (Sebastian) opened his mouth he commanded attention. So too did Philip Langridge, ineffably moving as the mourning King of Naples, and Gwynne Howell as the ageing Gonzalo.

The love music of Ferdinand (Toby Spence) and Miranda (Christine Rice) was ravishing and tenderly sung. As the halfsavage Caliban, Ian Bostridge, fetchingly dressed as Twiggy styled by Gormenghast, gave his all though the role proved less pivotal than expected.

The opera’s final ensemble, complete with Purcell-inspired ground bass, reminded us that Adès is a talent in a million.”

Meredith Oakes’s libretto after Shakespeare is clear, lean and full of helpful verbal repetition. But did we really need subtitles? Has the world gone mad? Tom Cairns’s and Moritz Junge’s semi-abstract designs, suggestive of Hepworth and Yannis Kounellis, looked handsome but left the action unfocused. In short, The Tempest was episodically beautiful and exactly what the ROH needed: the patrons were not scared and the scared weren’t patronised. This was the slightly too friendly face of modern opera.


Extract of a review by Richard Whitehouse for classicalsource.com


Tuesday, February 10, 2004

“…Vocally, Adès has clearly conceived the major roles with specific singers in mind, and could scarcely have been better served. Simon Keenlyside dominates much of the time onstage with a forceful yet eloquent Prospero, his reasoned humanity simultaneously placing him at the centre of events while removing him from their wider implications. Ian Bostridge is in his element as Caliban, a part which abounds in lyrically unfolding lines without untoward leaps such as might threaten accuracy of pitch. Cyndia Sieden admirably brings off the punishing coloratura writing for Ariel, though this is the one instance where Adès seems to have misjudged matters: such acrobatics grow wearing when the part is integral to the drama rather than a cameo during the course of it. Toby Spence and Christine Rice are well matched vocally as Ferdinand and Miranda, while Philip Langridge conveys palpable remorse as the King of Naples, and Gwynne Howell a comparable sincerity as Gonzalo – the gravitas of his Act Three lament impressive precisely because it emerges as if intuitively. John Daszak and Christopher Maltman complement each other effectively as the scheming Antonio and Sebastian, with Lawrence Zazzo and Stephen Richardson are amusing as the long-suffering sailors Trinculo and Stefano. The Royal Opera Chorus, sparingly used but with some evocative offstage contributions, acquits itself ably.”


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Lee Kefauver April 7, 2013 at 11:41 pm

I just received a DVD of this performance as shown on BBC4 from Premiere opera–DVD 9686. It is very well done and in excellent condition. At their price, it is a wonderful deal! They also had a very good copy of the Le Nozze Di Figaro (DVD 6235) which had been on YouTube, but was taken down. It has a few tiny glitches, but still gives us a copy of this performance which was brilliantly done, in my opinion.

Petra December 16, 2012 at 9:40 am

THe DVD was never “officially” released – it was a copy of the TV broadcast. As this web shop was not reliable we decided not to link to their site any longer but forgot to delete the link. Have done now.

Arthur Shippee December 15, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Link to ROH DVD is dead. Is it no longer available?

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