2012, New York Metropolitan Opera, The Tempest

The Tempest


(Photo from Met Online Brochure)

Composer : Thomas Adès
Librettist : Meredith Oakes

Venue and Dates : Metropolitan Opera New York
October 23, 27, 31, November 3m, 6, 10m, 14, 17m

A co-production of the Metropolitan Opera and L’Opéra de Québec
The matinee performance on 10th November will be broadcast
Live in HD in cínemas around the world.

Conductor : Thomas Adès
Director/Designer : Robert Lepage
Sets : Jasmine Catudal
Costumes : Kym Barrett
Lighting : Michel Beaulieu
Video Designer: David Leclerc

Performers :

Prospero: Simon Keenlyside
Ariel: Audrey Elizabeth Luna
Miranda: Isabel Leonard
Trinculo: Iestyn Davies
Ferdinand: Alek Shrader
Caliban: Alan Oke
King of Naples: William Burden
Antonio: Toby Spence

A free video stream of The Tempest, first broadcast to cinemas on 10 November 2012, will be shown by the Metropolitan Opera at 19.30 ET (USA time) on Friday 11 June 2021. Click here to watch – available for 23 hours – until late evening Tuesday 08 December in the UK and Europe.


Click here to read the Metropolitan Opera page relating to The Tempest


Comments: Wall Street Journal: Season’s Must-Sees: ” … But the best reason to see “The Tempest” is its Prospero: Simon Keenlyside, the baritone who is as gifted in voice as in theater and movement. As the rightful Duke of Milan, this Prospero re-creates La Scala on his own island, and the trickery takes place “backstage.”

Interview with Thomas Adés with comments about Simon for whom he wrote the part of Prospero

More info about the opera and the production

Wall Street Journal comments: ” …And with the captivating baritone Simon Keenlyside in the role of Prospero, more than a few spells will be cast. Mr. Keenlyside is an opera singer who understands theatrical performance and movement, having worked previously on a stage production with the contemporary choreographer Trisha Brown…. “


Sound Bites

Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 24.10.2012

” … At its London premiere, I thought “The Tempest” one of the most inspired, audacious and personal operas to have come along in years. I feel this even more strongly after the Met’s fantastical production, which offers a superb cast, headed by the charismatic baritone Simon Keenlyside in the role he created in London: Prospero, the former duke of Milan, who has been stranded for 12 years on a remote island, his throne having been usurped by his brother, Antonio. …
Kym Barrett, the costume designer, presents Prospero as a tattooed wild man with a disheveled military cape slung over one shoulder. It is easy to imagine that Prospero, stranded on the island, has entered the weird side. Mr. Keenlyside is such a grave, volatile and vocally chilling Prospero that he would have looked convincing in anything. …”

David Patrick Stearns, WQXR Radio blob, 24.10.2012

“… The opera truly belongs to charismatic Simon Keenlyside (Prospero) who momentarily convinces you there’s more in the opera than there actually is. But then nearly every performance he gives at this stage of his artistic evolution is unforgettably complete, vocally and theatrically.”

Anne Midgette,The Washington Post, 25.10.2012

” … And Keenlyside, though he sounded squeezed and tired in the first act — again, I blame the vocal writing — blossomed, as the night went on, into a vocally authoritative presence. …”

Mike Silverman, .kitsapsun.com, 25.10.2012 and AP.org and SFGate.com

” … Baritone Simon Keenlyside, who created the role of Prospero, repeats it here and anchors the performance with somber dignity and strong vocalism, though some of the role now lies below his comfort zone.  …”

Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, The Classical Review, 25.10.2012

“… Prospero’s lines mostly seem to fight it and are often accompanied by a rough combo of tuba and timpani that evoke the opening storm music. The role was written for Simon Keenlyside, who has distinctly colored registers, his upper range warm and generous, his lower notes gruff. In a cast stocked with excellent male voices, his bearing and gestures had a practiced authority. …”

Heidi Waleson, The Wallstreet Journal, 25.10.2012

” … Each character has a musical signature. Act I is all about Prospero, sung with deliberately stentorian intensity by baritone Simon Keenlyside, and the magical creatures he controls: …”

Zachary Woolfe,The New York Observer, 25.10.2012

” …The cast was committed to parts that are often unrewarding. Prospero is onstage much of the opera, but mostly just to stand around and look moody and forceful. Simon Keenlyside, who originated the role in 2004, is ready enough to do this, and he is an intelligent singer, but his voice these days is less commanding than his physique and manner. …”

Eric Myers, Variety, 25.10.2012

“… The Met could not have improved upon its cast. Simon Keenlyside, who created Prospero in the Covent Garden premiere, is incisive and vengeful, properly dominating the stage at all times despite a voice that is not quite as large as one might prefer in the role. …”

Martin Bernheimer, FT.com, 25.10.2012

” … Simon Keenlyside, the original Prospero in London, sang with sensitive force, awkward range extremes notwithstanding. He also loomed and brooded magnetically, even during long stretches when he was just a passive observer. …”

operaobsession.blogspot with curtain call photos!!!

” … The ambiguous and charismatic figure of Prospero is, in Adès’ opera, chiefly characterized by dangerously corrosive anger. This is, however, not without an admixture of remorse, and his tenderness towards Miranda, however misguided, is genuine. Simon Keenlyside realized all this, bringing Prospero to vivid life as a man deeply, even tragically flawed, and letting us see his gradual realization of his own crimes (sins, to use an unfashionable word) and his relinquishing of them. His singing was muscular, confident, nuanced, and his English always intelligible (the exception rather than the rule of the evening.) Occasionally through Prospero’s bitterness we can see his surviving love of beauty; through his anger at his daughter’s disobedience, his fear for her. And over the course of the evening we see his growth, until the stunning third-act soliloquy where he accuses himself of bringing the torments of hell to the previously innocent island. He vows to drown his books, to break his staff; even Miranda he relinquishes. Once he has restored order to the society of the court, it loses interest in him. He begs the emancipated Ariel to stay; but love has played no part in their bond, and the spirit flies away, released. Prospero’s despair has never felt so real (and yes, I cried.) … “

James Jordan, New York Post, 25.10.2012

” … The cast, too, was A-list. British baritone Simon Keenlyside re-created his original role of the sorcerer Prospero, negotiating the wide-ranging and bombastic part expertly. …”

Ronni Reich, NJ.com, 25.10.2012

” … Simon Keenlyside’s rugged baritone may be a little underpowered at its lower end, but the sound is gorgeous in both wrathful and more thoughtful moments.  …

David Finkle, Theatermania.com, 25.10.2012

” … Starting with a propulsive overture describing the storm whipped up by the magician Prospero (Simon Keenlyside, for whom the role was written), the work continues through three acts as it tells the story of Prospero and his fellow island-dwellers, including beloved daughter Miranda (Isabel Leonard, whose mezzo-soprano has a fine-wine quality) and her lover Ferdinand (Alek Shrader, whose tenor is a match for his youthful good looks). …”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News, 25.12.2012

” … Performers make the most of what they’ve got. British baritone Simon Keenlyside’s Prospero, the usurped duke with a grudge, is very easy on the ears. Too bad he spends most of his time just gawking at goings-on from the sidelines. …”

Hannes Stein, Die Welt, 26.10.2012

” … Prospero (wie schon bei der Uraufführung herrlich gesungen von Simon Keenlyside) stört. Sein Rachebariton bringt alles und alle durcheinander. Wenn er am Ende seinen Zauberstab zerbricht und sich auf sein Altenteil zurückzieht, ist die musikalische Harmonie wiederhergestellt – jedenfalls beinahe. …”

Translation by Petra Habeth

“Prospero (as at the premiere wonderfully sung by Simon Keenlyside) interferes in the action. His revengeful baritone voice turns everything and everyone upside down. When he finally breaks his magic staff and retires, the musical harmony is restored – well, almost. …”

Zerbinetta’s blog, Likely impossiblities, 25.10.2012

“… The cast is more or less fine, though none really stand out. Simon Keenlyside as Prospero appeared in the premiere and uses the words most expressively (and articulates them with admirable clarity), but his voice sounds rough at times, and the production makes him more an eccentric tattooed uncle than a magician despite his considerable dignity. …”

Tom Service, The Guardian, 26.10.2012

” … It could have been an arch conceit, making a clunking connection between the metaphors of illusion and theatre and Prospero’s spells, but because of the clarity of Jasmine Catudal’s sets, and above all the brilliance of the performances from a cast catalysed by Simon Keenlyside’s magnificent, complex Prospero, the effect on the night was clearer, more moving, more human, and more rich than any production of The Tempest I’ve seen. …”

Andrew Losowsky, Huffington Post, 25.10.2012

” … For this production, he has his young Prospero (Simon Keenlyside, effective enough), the usurped Duke of Milan, magic up a miniature version of La Scala opera house from Milan itself on the island.  …”

Wilborn Hampton, Huffington Post – Blog, 29.10.2012

” … The fine English baritone Simon Keenlyside is eloquent as Prospero, studious and resigned as he orchestrates what will become his final retribution. …”

Kelly Jane Torrance,The Weekly Standard, 3.11.2012

” … Prospero finally reveals to her how they came to be on the island—and his plan for revenge. They must suffer as I did before, baritone Simon Keenlyside’s Prospero declares, as the brass hints at the trials to which he refers. Keenlyside, who created the role, is a mesmerizing performer: His voice turns tender when he talks of Miranda. But it doesn’t stay that way for long.  …”

unpredictableinevitability.com. 24.10.2012

” …The vocal performances, likewise, were impressive. Prospero was created for Simon Keenlyside, and he inhabits the role perfectly as a Wotan in miniature, even if his voice seems currently to be suffering around the edges.  …”

Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com,8.12.2012

” … The brilliant British baritone Simon Keenlyside is the Prospero, handsome, tattooed, dignified, vengeful, and eventually forgiving. His music, as suggested above, lacks an individual stamp, but Keenlyside can do no wrong: he makes us believe and care about Prospero’s amazingly weird predicament. …”

Mark Pullinger, Opera Britannia, 12.11.2012

“…But a strong cast, headed by Simon Keenlyside as Prospero, a role which he created for the Royal Opera world premiere eight years ago, held much promise for a cinema screening in a less-blustery Hampshire. … As Prospero, Keenlyside was in muscular voice, his ringing baritone declaiming the role heroically. Years of singing heavier repertoire since the 2004 premiere, plus the experience of singing Adès’ music, made this an even more satisfying assumption. In Lepage’s production, Prospero stands around observing events, illustrating his powerlessness to stop them. By Act III, he is a broken man and his solo ‘With my art I’ve dimmed the sun’ was eloquently expressed. His chest and arms covered in body art – tattoos of his magic as he has lost his books – Keenlyside’s Prospero looked as magnificent as it sounded. …”

Melanie O’Neill, Examiner.com, 10.11.2012

” … The aptly chosen cast was headed by Simon Keenlyside in the role of the betrayed Prospero. Simon Keenlyside’s powerful baritone voice was perfectly suited for the mature and embittered, but still relatively youthful Prospero. His firm voice commanded, but was charismatic enough to maintain an emotive, fatherly quality. It is this warm vocal quality that made Prospero’s change of heart so sincere later in the opera. …”

David Salazar, Latinos Post, 8.11.2012

“Simon Keenlyside premiered the work back in 2004. He has always been known not only for his fine voice, but also for his compelling stage presence. He was terrific in the role of Prospero showcasing a potent voice throughout the early portions of the work and showing confidence and control in the incredibly difficult upper notes that Ades imposes on the role. Prospero does show some tenderness in the early and later portions of the work especially toward his daughter Miranda. One such moment was when Keenlyside’s pianissimi rang with captivating delicacy as he put her to sleep in the first act. Keenlyside’s spent a great deal of time on stage without singing and even then he was hard to ignore. As the King sings about his troubles of losing his son in Act 2, Keenlyside walked toward him in a moment of genuine understanding, almost as if he wished to console him. Such a subtle gesture created a world of emotion that may have not materialized if not for Keenlyside’s tremendous performance. … “

Justin Davidson, New York Classica l& Dance, 28.10.2012

” … Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, is a refugee from civilization lording it over a fantastical land. Is he a seventeenth-­century Kurtz, and are we looking in on his demented dreams? Adès has said that “Wagner is a fungus,” but in his hands—and in the characterization of the excellent Simon Keenlyside—Prospero becomes a Wagnerian, Wotan-like figure, striding over his realm with a big stick and a sonorous baritone, vainly trying to control his rebellious daughter and confusing vengeance and justice.  … “

” … Much inevitably depends on the quality of the singer, and Simon Keenlyside (reprising a role that he helped create in the original 2004 Covent Garden production of the work) is a commanding presence that brings Prospero to life and brings a necessary degree of humanity to the part. It’s an extremely challenging role – particularly in the singing – and Keenlyside did show a little strain in places, but nothing that couldn’t be seen as characterisation of Prospero’s own personal conflicts and dilemmas. …”

Paul Kilbey, bachtrack.com, 10.11.2012

” …Simon Keenlyside’s Prospero was immensely impressive. It’s a part described as for “high baritone” but it sounds at times more like a pure tenor role, and at others like a low-ish baritone one. With a huge amount of time on stage to compound the difficulty of the part, it’s not a role to tackle lightly, but a more compelling performance than Keenlyside’s is hard to imagine. …”

F. Plotkin, Das Opernglas, 1/2013

” … Den wahren Erfolg dieser Produktion machte aber der Auftritt von Simon Keenlyside aus. Sein Spiel war detalliert, sein Gesang klangschön und ausdrucksvoll. Der britische Bariton portätierte Prospero, unterstützt von Thomas Adès am Pult und Lepage, als einen Menschen, der zwar Macht verliert, gleichzeitig aber eine andere Macht gewinnt, die Weisheit, die zu einem kommt, wenn man Befehlsgewalt fallen läßt. In mancher Hinsicht ähnelt er hierin Wagners Wotan, der seine Tochter nicht kontrollieren kann, aber eine Art von Freiheit und Weisheit erlangt, indem er sie ihrem Schicksal folgen läßt.
Für jeden, der Keenlysides menschliche Interpretation erleben konnte, ehe oder nachdem Sandy über New York hereinbrach, transportierte seine Darstellung auf eindrucksvolle Weise die Beschränkungen menschlicher Fähigkeiten im Angesicht des Desasters, zeigte aber auch, dass wir, wenn wir uns nur öffnen, durch Verlust Verständnis erlangen können.”

F. PAUL DRISCOLL, OperaNews, 2/2013

” … Simon Keenlyside’s charismatic, singularly dark portrayal of Prospero stood at the center of the action, conjuring the exiled Duke’s emotional isolation as well as his formidable intelligence. …”

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Kew January 27, 2014 at 1:41 am

The tempest DVD was awarded Grammy award for best opera recording. Congratulations !!!!

Sue December 7, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Five star review of The Tempest live screening from Bachtrack.
‘a more compelling performance than Keenlyside’s is hard to imagine’


Sue November 23, 2012 at 5:00 pm

The first act duet between Prospero and Miranda from the Met live screening has been posted here:

DK November 18, 2012 at 11:19 pm

A wonderful quick trip to NY for an exhilarating Beethoven’s 9th brilliantly played on period instruments at Carnegie Hall, the last fabulous performance of The Tempest, and finally a deeply moving concert of Arvo Pärt’s music at Alice Tully. Is there such a thing as an excess of musical riches?

It was a great pleasure to meet Ally in real life and to find we share other things musically. 🙂 Ally–I will see you at the Wozzeck performance tomorrow.

This final performance of The Tempest leaves me wholly convinced of the work. I love that Ades wrote Caliban’s part with such sympathy, giving him such gorgeous music and making him so much more than a caricature of a monster. This is music that repays repeated listening–Ariel no longer even sounds strange to me. Having been lucky enough to have already seen this once in house and once on HD, I was able to pay more attention to details I’d missed previously, such as Ariel’s blessing of Miranda and Ferdinand being echoed in the quintet, or the black “socks” with white bones painted on them Simon wears in the first act–mirroring the gloves and socks Caliban wears. As others have noted, while the HD gives us the benefit of close-ups, we lose the “whole stage” experience. Prospero is often on stage without singing, but Simon is never simply a bystander–his movements and expression and even his moments of stillness speak volumes: his aborted reach for Miranda when she tells him she remembers nothing of Milan, the way he turns toward the king grieving for a son believed dead, all the doubt and regret he could show without a word. Much of this was lost in the HD broadcast though I am sure there were multiple cameras and thoughtful editing might return more of this to a DVD edition.

For this performance I was in a dress circle box, where the perspective is different (in some ways better than that from the orchestra where I had sat previously). I noticed the details on the “socks” on Simon’s feet for instance, which would not be visible from the orchestra level. And in the third act, when the court are wandering toward the scaffolding, the view of the stage opened up all the way back practically to Amsterdam Avenue was something you don’t clearly see from the orchestra (nor on the HD broadcast): this was quite a spectacular effect.

In the third act, I thought Simon sounded a little tired in the beginning (I hope he manages to get plenty of rest before Wozzeck!) but he seemed to regroup and brought enormous power and emotion to “Their brains are boiled…” It’s a heartbreaking moment when Prospero realizes that his vengeance has not brought him any happiness and he sings of his magical powers having brought “hell’s fury to the shore… Nothing more.”

A mishap in the second act, where Ferdinand is lifted from the prompter’s box by cables attached to his wrists, there was a “snap” audible from my seat and the cable to his right wrist went slack, so poor Alek Shrader was hanging from one wrist and for a moment was dragged across the stage by the remaining cable. I hope he was not injured. He carried on like a trouper.

DK November 14, 2012 at 12:42 am

Hi Bill–it’s not exactly a “zip” into NYC as it is about a 3.5 h trip one-way. Still, it is doable (and your free digs are a great advantage!), and it’s been worth the trouble and expense for the experiences I’ve had. After all I will go cross-country or across the Atlantic if there is a performance suitably compelling to do so, at least as far as my savings allow! And as the Met in HD hosts always tell us, there is nothing like seeing/hearing a performance in the house. 🙂 Looking forward very much to Wozzeck. (And for those who enjoy Berg–do NOT miss the Lulu from La Monnaie, streaming free on their website until 28 Nov.)

Off topic but of interest to this group: the BBC4 Tales from the Stave episode on Don Giovanni is presently available to listen to again: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b015zm9j The Simon who gives such thoughtful comments on this fascinating broadcast is so different from the angry and bitter Prospero we’ve had on stage the past few weeks–and we have Wozzeck to come!

Bill Palik November 13, 2012 at 7:57 pm

You folks are lucky to be able to zip in and out of New York (or London, for those across the pond from me) – NY is 1000 miles away from me, but luckily I do have friends now living there and so have free digs when I make the voyage. I have attended two of Simon’s solo recitals at Lincoln Center in the past 2-3 years, but who knows when I will be moved to get to the Met in person. Despite all my carping about how the Met simulcasts are not really opera, and more like cinema, I have to admit there are advantages to having the closeups and recording microphones – not to mention the small expense of seeing it in a local movie house rather than traveling all that distance. Simon did mention perhaps returning to the Met to sing Don Carlo in the French version – that is probably just a pipedream, no? Also, his aborted Ballo in Vienna earlier this year – does that put roadblocks in his Verdi parade which was to progress on to Simon Boccanegra and even perhaps Otello? (By Otello, I assume he meant Iago as a role.) I do hope he gives more solo recitals in 2013 than he did in 2012 (only two, surely a record in his career to date); I see already at least one listed for 2013. His voice seems to be in great shape, so I trust he is not getting to the winding-down area in his datebook.

DK November 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I’ve emailed you privately, I hope I have the email address right. I’ll be in NY for the Beethoven 9th on Friday, The Tempest on Saturday, and then back in on Monday evening for Wozzeck. Yes, would like to say hi!

Ally November 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Thank you, Marilyn, Sue, DK and Bill. My impression is the same, I second you. Details are not important. Simon MUST bee seen even when he is silent and the camera focus is currently on the singing partners.

That’s why – DK, where are you, maybe we can meet this time!!! (I asked for your e-mail, too) – I got tickets for the final The Tempest , Nov 17th, want to participate in the standing ovation.

My stack of tickets is so tiny now – the final Tempest, in two days Wozzeck in concert and farewell, Mr. Keenlyside, for how long?

Bill Palik November 13, 2012 at 3:02 am

I agree, Simon’s all too brief interview with Deb V at intermission was unusually intelligent, humorous, and insightful. For me, seeing the Met production made all the difference – I have not had the opportunity to view the ROH version, so cannot make comparisons – but the visual and dramatic impact of the performance brought the music to life for me in ways that the CD I have did not. There were a few moments when I felt the use of recording techniques gave us perhaps a different impression of the voices than would be heard live in the opera house – one low note of Simon’s in particular boomed as it surely could not have to those sitting in the theatre. It must be admitted that the Met simulcasts are more akin to cinema, with the constant cutting, closeups, moving camera, etc, than to the standard opera experience. I had the same thoughts about choreography earlier in the week when I was happy finally to be able to see Zenaida in a whole ballet – in this case, as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake from ROH – but my goodness, the fluidity and poise of her hands and wrists alone were worth the price of admission. As to the above questions about which productions Simon may have “loathed” in the past, I have read (and heard in his interviews) several comments that show he was very displeased with the Vienna Macbeth of a few seasons ago – but further, he nearly frothed at the mouth when I mentioned last spring’s Eugene Onegin in Munich when I saw him after his Atlanta recital. At any rate, I am very much looking forward to seeing the ROH Onegin this coming February, when I believe it will be simulcast.

DK November 13, 2012 at 2:31 am

First I’d like to second Marilyn’s thanks to Team SK for this great website. Thank you!! 🙂

Before I forget: Works in Progress has posted an excerpt from the Guggenheim presentation:

Now on the HD broadcast–I agree largely with comments from Sue and Marilyn. I was fortunate to have had the “whole stage” experience of The Tempest the week-end prior to the HD screening, and will be trekking in again to NYC for the final performance. I think the singing in the HD broadcast by at least some in the cast was a notch above both the live broadcast of the premiere as well as what I heard in house the week-end prior to the HD broadcast. None of the HD broadcasts can give the whole stage view or very physical aural experience that one has in the house. But that’s the nature of the beast, and I do enjoy the chance to see the singers’ expressions in close-up. In the best of all worlds we would all have the opportunity to see both. I thoroughly enjoyed the HD broadcast! I must say that Simon is so enormously effective on stage with his range of vocal colour and subtleties of body language that I think it is the rest of the cast who benefitted most from the HD close-ups: for instance Isabel Leonard’s emergence as a young woman who is seeing her father in a different light, or the wonderfully snake-like characterization of Antonio by Toby Spence seemed much clearer in the HD broadcast. If this is released on DVD I do hope they edit thoughtfully so that the awkward camera cuts here and there are fixed–that final quintet for instance suffers from too many individual camera shots.

(As an aside, I must say I like what San Francisco does with their “OperaVision” performances where those in the cheap balcony seats have the advantage of superb sound, plus the OperaVision screens which hang to the left and right at balcony level give much of the close-up effects of an HD broadcast with pretty good camerawork. One still has a view of most of the stage…though anything above about 1/3 of the rear might be cut off from view because of the steep viewing angle. It’s a pity more houses don’t have a similar set-up.)

I have been also listening to the London recording with score in hand. The characterization of each role is very strong in the music. This work certainly has grown on me–it’s not all immediately approachable music (at least it wasn’t for me), but the quirks have become comfortable now–even Ariel’s stratospheric Five Fathoms Deep aria no longer sounds quite so strange, and I can’t listen to Caliban’s incredibly lyrical aria (heartbreaking, coming from this ugly, unloved, and lonely creature) in the second act without tears.

There is one more scheduled radio broadcast of The Tempest (not sure which performance it will be, possibly a rebroadcast of the premiere) on 29 December. I hope a DVD is released so everyone has a chance to see what this production was like.

Marilyn November 12, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Yes, Sue . . . thanks for reminding me about Simon’s comment about loss of powers . . . that was VERY striking, and also perfectly consistent with every other comment he has made about opera–and the operas he has chosen to sing–being some reflection of the human condition . . . it would be interesting to ask him how his attitudes about Prospero have changed from the time he first did the opera–in 2004, before marriage, having his own children and now the loss of his own father–and now . . . I feel certain it has altered his approach profoundly. I’m sure those important life changes also colored many of his comments in the all-too-brief interview at intermission.

It would be so wonderful if we could all meet at some point . . . what a fascinating conversation we could all have! I’m so appreciative of everything Team SK does to make this site not only the FINEST singer’s website ANYWHERE, but also a forum for us to share perspectives . . . THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, TEAM SK!


Sue November 12, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Thank you for your thoughts, Marilyn, I certainly agree with all of your comments about the production and transmission. I am often frustrated by live-screening of both opera and theatre because, with no opportunities for the editing of action/reaction, we can miss the details – absolutely essential in all Simon’s performances. As a result I also felt we were missing some of the subtleties of Prospero’s journey from anger to forgiveness and acceptance.

This is not to say that I didn’t generally enjoy the production which was interesting, inventive and visually exciting, especially in the storm scene, but sometimes seemed to be trying too hard and the stage was sometimes too crowded. For example, although I understand the reason for the ‘picture frame’ introduction of the Naples & Milan characters, it was a distraction during the tender Prospero/Miranda exchanges in Act 1. And like Marilyn, I felt the gorgeous Act III quintet was weakened because of the staging.

Although not completely successful, the Covent Garden production has a pared-down, ‘otherworldly’ character which for me feels more appropriate to the nature of Ades’ music. In particular the over-sweet treatment of the lovers didn’t work for me as well as the CG production – their stunned amazement at the power of their feelings for each other at the end of Act II moves me much more than the walk into the sunset.

Clearly Audrey Luna and Alan Oke were terrific and William Burden sang beautifully although without the aching sadness of the late Philip Langridge in the CG production. I also felt Antonio and Sebastian weren’t nasty enough! But it was excellent to hear Toby Spence in pretty good vocal health.

All this aside, Simon’s voice and performance were breathtakingly powerful – I’m still reeling! He was riveting vocally and visually. It is difficult to reconcile such a wrathful performance with the thoughtful, warm character which emerges from his interviews. His comment to Deborah Voigt about Prospero having to come to terms with the loss of his powers being something everyone will eventually experience is both moving and pertinent.

An affecting and exhilarating evening and I do hope I will have the chance to see an ‘encore’ screening. Also hope it will be available soon in Germany & Austria, Petra.

Marilyn November 11, 2012 at 8:56 pm

I’d just like to share a few thoughts about the HD transmission of The Tempest which I was very happy to be able to see yesterday. Generally, I liked the production. I had also listened to the audio streaming of opening night, so the chance to “see” the action aided greatly in understanding Lepage’s argument for the production, and an even greater appreciation of what I feel is a truly remarkable musical score. I thought the use of the “stage” from different angles in each act was very effective, and quite brilliant. It also brought back the charm of “ropes” and “wheels” before the technological advancements that permitted something like “La Machine” in The Ring. This was especially charming in Act III where we could see Ariel during wheels under the stage, and throughout the opera by the very clever use of the prompter’s box.

I thought the singing was quite strong for the most part. Isabel Leonard has, I think, a great future. Alek Shrader’s voice is very young . . . I think I preferred Toby Spence as Ferdinand in the Covent Garden production . . . I did not care for Spence as much as Antonio in this production, but here I think it was a case of casting expediency: the Met needed to give Shrader a major role at their house, after naming him winner of the Met auditions . . . and Shrader and Leonard made an absolutely beautiful pairing as the young lovers. Alan Oke was terrific as Caliban . . . his aria in the second act is one of the true musical high points of the opera, and he sang it so beautifully. I am in complete awe of Audrey Luna as Ariel. I know this may not be to everyone’s taste, but I think Ades honestly set out to create a character “of the air,” and it is a remarkable achievement–in both concept and execution.

I’m leaving Simon to the end–of course–because his multi-faceted portrayal of Prospero pointed up the greatest strength of the production, and one of the greatest weaknesses of the “transmission” to the movie theaters. The HD transmissions are a movie director’s medium: the director controls where the camera places its focus on a stage where there may be multiple points of action going on simultaneously. I’m not saying they didn’t give Simon enough face time during his important “singing” moments. But the concept of this role is that Prospero is ever-present on the stage, either observing or directing much of the action, and we all know that Simon is going to be totally engaged and reactive at every single moment he is on stage. So those of us watching in the movie theaters were not able to experience–as DK and others privileged enough to be IN the theater–Simon’s full characterization/interpretation of this demanding role. And I was especially disappointed in the blocking of the culminating quintet in Act III. Because of the placement of three of the five singers on the “stage,” of Prospero in the “pit” and Gonzalo in the “audience,” it was impossible to appreciate how this music worked “as a piece.” That Simon sounded as fresh in this sixth of eight performances is a tribute to his musical intelligence and ability to pace himself during the performances. His interview with Deborah Voigt at intermission was–predictably–insightful and witty. (His reference to Voight: “Hi, Deb” . . . and his ever-thoughtful exit line: “Good luck with “Troyens!” mixed in with analogies to a summary of the Tempest in such a brief amount of time being akin to “speed-dating” were priceless.) Voigt asked him about the tattoos (no, he wasn’t wearing the “glitter shirt” shown in many of the rehearsal photos, but his body was truly painted), and they showed an all-too-brief clip of the artist who was painting his body . . . not a single complaint about how difficult it must be to remove that after every performance. And how someone as kinetic as Simon could sit still that long is something that still amazes–and amuses–me! But he made a thoughtful argument for the body painting–to paraphrase (I may not have captured this completely), Prospero capturing much of the magic from his books by writing the incantations/spells on his body.

I may have been frustrated by being left wondering what we did NOT see on the transmission, but I am nevertheless planning to go back for the encore, because what we were able to see–and hear–were very, very special.

Thanks for putting up with my “few thoughts” . . .


Petra November 6, 2012 at 6:21 am

Kew, that’s really funny! Because I used a twitter comment of Simon’s agency with the photo attached.
Did get an email of the Met Shop meanwhile telling that really these chocolates never existed!

Kew November 6, 2012 at 3:18 am

I had a chat with a MET shop assistant about the Tempest chocolate. What I was told is that it did not exist, and he said he himself had spotted it on the web and had inquired at the shop wondering why store staff had not been informed. He concluded that it was a complete fabrication, but is there anyone who actually saw or bought it?


DK November 4, 2012 at 11:54 pm

I got back late on Wednesday from San Francisco to a dark but undamaged and dry house. I knew from neighbours that power had gone out early on Monday afternoon during the storm. No power, water, heat, phone, or internet connectivity until late Friday night. But friends nearby had power (and hot showers!) so things were inconvenient but fortunately no more than that. It is terrible for those who have lost lives or homes. Here on the shoreline north of NYC many homes have been damaged or destroyed, and it is worse along the south- and east-facing shores of NY and NJ.

Ally–I am glad you are OK, I know at least one other opera-going acquaintance who may not be (she lives in the Rockaways). I will ask the moderators to send you my contact information privately.

I did go in to NY on Saturday for the Tempest matinee although the tragedy of the “real tempest” left a sober mood. The weather was beautiful, a bit chilly but sunny. Not a lot of riders on the Metro North trains going into Grand Central, though the conductor told me that they were running a full schedule of trains. I did see the crane dangling from the building across from Carnegie Hall, which must’ve been terrifying to see when the winds were still high (it is now stabilized, I believe).

At the Met there was a reasonably full house in spite of the transportation difficulties from some areas. I liked this production very much, although I am not sure the conceit of “an opera house within an opera house” is something that will last. In any case settings to me are much less important than the performance. First of all the orchestral playing was fabulous–it’s a complex and highly textured score and this was brought out brilliantly. The singing on a whole was of very high quality. The Met chorus did not disappoint, and nor did the soloists for the most part. SK messed up one of his early lines (instead of singing “I was Milan, I was Duke” he sang “I loved seclusion and my books”…but didn’t blink and just repeated the line). I did think the part lies a little low for him at a couple of spots, but it also goes quite high (I am guessing an A?) and to my ear he seems most comfortable in mid- and high range. Simon brings a Lieder singer’s care to the text and one never needed to look at the titles being projected just below the stage to understand what he was singing (not the case for all singers). Prospero is a terribly sad role to play and as expected Simon makes this a complex character–Prospero is an angry and vengeful (even cruel) man and even though he ends up forgiving his brother, he has lost control of his daughter and has given up his magical powers and the company of the Ariel, who once freed disappears even as Prospero calls to him to stay as he was never tied to Prospero by love. Of the rest of the cast I particularly enjoyed William Burden (the King of Naples) who sang with really beautiful tone. Iestyn Davies made the most of a smaller comic role (singing even his “hiccups”) and Audrey Luna was outstanding as a vocally and physically acrobatic Ariel. I was happy to hear Toby Spence sing quite well, perhaps a little strained in a couple of top notes, but a remarkable recovery from surgery. Miranda and Ferdinand were sung respectively by Isabel Leonard and Alek Shrader, both talented young singers who were well matched on stage. Caliban was sung by Alan Oke and although I prefer the voices of Burden and Spence I thought he sang the part well (Caliban has some really beautiful music to sing). Overall the performance was a great success, and listening to others I heard a lot of complimentary remarks about the music and performers.

Oh, and I did check the shop–the chocolate bars seem to be long gone.

Ally November 1, 2012 at 3:39 pm

DK, hope you are back home and safe and your house is OK. I was without electricity for two days and got power back only in the middle of this night. Staten Island where I live is heavily beaten by Sandy and still more or less isolated. My area is not so bad, fallen trees but no flooding. Our office in Manhattan is still without power.

The Met Talk today is cancelled. Turandot tomorrow is back on schedule. Hope that Saturday Tempest matinee will be OK.

Please try to contact me again.

DK October 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Ally, I did try to contact you but that was a post that died in the spam box. 🙂 I do plan to be at this Saturday’s performance, but all depends on the post-Sandy outlook…I am still in California and hope the flights tomorrow go on as scheduled. I do know from phone calls to my neighbours that my house appears intact although the entire area is without electricity. There has been severe damage and homes lost in the NY/NJ/CT area–from photos it looks like some neighbourhoods have been wiped out.

I’d heard some comments about The Tempest and Sandy too!

Sue October 30, 2012 at 11:33 am

DK & Ally – Thank you very much for sharing your snapshots of the Tempest events, both interesting and amusing. I love the image of the Gelb interview (wish I’d been there!) and so pleased that Iestyn had a chance to shine. I’ve finally had time to see all the reviews which make fascinating reading – thanks yet again to SK info.
As for the real tempest, we now hear that the winds are beginning to calm a little but still awful weather ahead. No doubt it will be months before the true impact can be addressed. Terrible for all affected.
And lets hope that Ades’ Tempest doesn’t develop a similar reputation to that of ‘the Scottish play’ although I know what Simon would say to that idea!

Ally October 29, 2012 at 9:48 pm

DK, first I’d like to thank you for your wonderful review. You know, we could say hello or shake hands – if we knew each other :)). I attended the Met Talk, too.

Maybe I can add only a few words.

‘Living Opera’ by Joshua Jampol is loaded on my Kindle e-reader. All interviews with top opera people are very interesting, and of course, the interview with Simon. On my way back from the Met House I was re-reading it again.

We can only guess what productions Simon hated and what satisfaction did he find in it.
At least his opinion about participating in not so stellar productions is clear: Simon never gets into arguments even if he doesn’t like what he is asked to do, because it’s a chance to learn something new about the piece. He can ask the director for changes but not every director, especially with the overall vision of the production, is ready to listen to singer’s suggestions. In this case either you stay and accept ‘loathed’ job or you go away. And I believe he almost never called these productions ‘by name’ keeping it to himself.

In this book, pressed by the interviewer, he described only one case when he refused to work. It was Schumann’s Faust Scenes in Zurich. He insisted that real dead animal body and blood would be replaced with synthetic and he won. All reviews (here, SK.info) praised Simon above measure. Simon described how Hermann Nitsch whose paintings dominated the production, came to Simon’s dressing room to thank him. This old guy didn’t care about Schumann, Faust, Goethe, etc, only about himself but he was happy. Was Simon equally happy – I doubt… but “I was a little irritated but kept it down. But the thanks at the end from this old man made it worthwhile”.

Truly Mr. Keenlyside is ‘nice to work with’ – a regular phrase from job references.

The performances at the Met are all cancelled, nobody knows about Tuesday and Wednesday (The Tempest!). As long as bridges, tunnels and public transportation are suspended they would not resume.

5:45 PM in New York. The real tempest is so close. Where is Prospero to tame this damned Sandy??? :))

DK October 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Well, I am presently in San Francisco for absolutely glorious performances of Moby-Dick and Lohengrin so personally safely far away from the real live tempest. Let’s hope that the hurricane does not take any lives.

Kew–I wondered too which performances Simon “loathed”. The Vienna Macbeth, I am guessing. Maybe the Eugene Onegin–although I do see that there was some validity to the director’s take on a “gay” Onegin in view of the composer’s life, and in any case I don’t think that would be something that would necessarily bother Simon. Let’s not forget there’s certainly a homoerotic undertone to Don Carlo as well, and in the performances I’ve seen with SK as Posa, he certainly tends to be the most immersed singer (opposite whoever is singing Carlo, that is).

Thanks Ally for the description of the LPR event–would have loved to have been there but timing didn’t work out right. LPR as you say is small and the acoustics are all right, though it’s not exactly a recital hall. Still, microphones were probably not necessary except for the fact that you’re trying to sing or play over rather a bit more noise than one would have in a more formal setting. I am glad that Iestyn Davies got to sing several pieces as I think he is another gifted singer and counter-tenors are still a novelty to a large sector of the public here–even those who are opera-goers.

If all goes well I will be at my first in-house Tempest performance this Saturday.

Jane October 29, 2012 at 11:11 am

Thank you so much DK and Ally for your really interesting first-hand accounts of these two events involving Simon. He does seem to come out with unpredictable and oblique responses to questions as well as showing a real reluctance to be pinned down to talk about himself in any great detail in front of the public. I have been fortunate enough to chat briefly with him after several of his performances in the last two years and he has always been friendly and charming, with a lovely sense of humour, but he is extremely modest and usually finds an excuse to run off if you even try to pay him a compliment. He generally seems to prefer to talk about anything other than the performance he has just given – he would certainly rather talk about other people and what they have accomplished.

Ally October 28, 2012 at 9:16 pm

‘New York is happy that this great storm came, and I don’t mean hurricane Sandy’. That’s how Mr. Peter Gelb introduced ‘An evening with Thomas Ades & the Tempest’ at Le Poisson Rouge. (Not a quotation but pretty close.) . They run two one hour shows on Friday. The venue is a nice cabaret or jazz club type so people sit and drink listening to performers.

Ades was present almost all the time as an accompanist for singers and instrumentalists and playing Stravinsky’s piano pieces. Actually it was all-about-Tempest theme show, Henry Purcell to Thomas Ades, every composer who touched Shakespearean play. ‘Full fathom five’ (‘Five fathoms deep’ in Ades’s opera) was sung four times.

Audrey Luna was replaced with Laure Meloy. Simon made only one short appearance with ‘Our revels are ended’. The evening is a part of the Met Opera promotional events so, as I understand, at least one or two main characters from The Tempest must be present. I believe they just wanted to save voices for Saturday evening performance. Also participated mezzo Kate Lindsey and ladies playing wind instruments, viola and harp.

They had microphones for instruments and singers and I was surprised that opera people sang into the mic. The hall is small and is not a problem for voices. Maybe acoustic is not so good. Only Simon sang ‘as is’ and I assure you it was good.

Trinculo in the opera has a smaller role, and Iestyn Davies was the busiest performer. He sang as much as five songs by different composers. I wanted to see him and was not disappointed.

There was a funny moment at the very end. They all went to the stage for a ‘curtain call’. Taking his bow Iestyn bent like a folding knife and didn’t stand up strait. Simon decided to participate in this nice boyish mischief, slapped Iestyn on his back, than grabbed his collar and ‘helped him out’ to the upright position. Audience laughed. It was a good ending for an overly ‘classical’ performance.

Kew October 25, 2012 at 9:12 am

Hello DK,

Many thanks for sharing your experience with us. What a fascinating conversation! I chuckled under my breath while imagining how Simon mumbled his thought, and wondered which production he had in his mind when he confessed that he had performed in productions that he “absolutely loathed”.

Petra October 25, 2012 at 6:34 am

This time I found her comment in the spam folder. If someone wonders about his/her comments PLEASE write to skinfo@btinternet.com and inform us as we normally won’t browse through the huge amount of spam.

DK October 25, 2012 at 12:30 am

(My original 2 attempts at posting died in the ether so I am trying to reconstruct what I had originally written.)

The “Tempest” chocolates seem to have sold out quickly. None in the Met Shop when I checked last Friday. There is the usual table festooned with material related to the current premiere–CDs of The Tempest, SK’s “Tales of Opera”, and an Ades compilation and the new Ades interview book. As usual the Met Shop’s CD racks lack for other recordings from SK (only 3, I think) and Iestyn Davies (who has only 1 CD on display)–neither one’s Gramophone-winning CD was available!!

On the WSJ article, the author got a lot of stuff not quite right if not totally wrong. This production did not “[premiere] at London’s Covent Garden in 2004” but in Quebec earlier this summer. The author also writes inaccurately in giving the impression that the composer and librettist are the same person. And of course SK has worked with Trisha Brown in more than “a” stage production. (Where is an editor when you need on?!) However, there really IS a circus at Lincoln Center…the “Big Apple Circus” tent is up, crammed in the corner between the Met Opera House and the Koch Theatre.

Last Friday I took the train into NYC in spite of the lousy weather and attended the Met Talks presentation on The Tempest. The theatre was still set up for the dress rehearsals of The Tempest which had been held earlier that day, with desks scattered around the orchestra (stalls) level. For the discussion, a table and chairs were out over what is normally the orchestra pit (raised for this to stage level). When the curtain was lifted to let people pass, you could see that stagehands were already working on the set of another opera (Nozze…which also opens its run this week). Gelb moderated, and sitting to his left (from left to right) were SK, Thomas Ades, and Robert Lepage. They started with projecting the first 3 minutes (the storm scene) from the Quebec production onto the curtain. Ades and Lepage turned around to watch the video (Ades conducting here and there with his fingers) but SK didn’t turn around to watch. Then the first few questions were for Lepage and Ades, and were essentially the same Q&As from the Guggenheim “Works in Progress” presentation. It got more interesting when Gelb asked SK questions, as it seemed that most of Simon’s answers were (typically, I think) unpredictable, and I thought it was a bit amusing to see Gelb seeming a bit thrown off his careful script. A few comments from Simon: he spoke with great respect of The Tempest, calling it a work of genius. He mentioned standing on stage and watching/listening to what was going on around him and how “it all made sense” and was logical. He did say that he has performed in productions that he “absolutely loathed” but that as a professional either you commit to “finding a way” through a production even if you don’t like it, or you don’t show up!! When pushed by Gelb who wanted to know how his views on the opera have changed since the 2004 premiere, SK only answered obliquely, that he does immerse himself in a given production, and remarking (on Prospero’s character) that it is just like what any parent goes through, seeing their daughter grow up and become independent. Most interestingly to me is that Simon spoke of when he is eventually gone, what he thought he would be best remembered for (“like the faint vibrations from the rim of a wine glass”) would be Prospero in The Tempest…not Wozzeck, not any of his beloved Mozart roles. (I may differ on that but that is just me as a mere observer!)

Ally October 24, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Don’t miss new videos in the Video Gallery section of The Tempest mini-site http://tempest.metoperafamily.org/about.php.

From the beginning there were only two videos, The Tempest trailer and interview with Robert Lepage. Now they added Prospero’s aria and love duet. Videos are labeled October 19, it was the final dress rehearsal.

DK October 5, 2012 at 4:56 am

Learned today that the Met will broadcast The Tempest a second time on Saturday 29 December 2012, 1:00 pm Eastern Time (US). This will be a previously recorded performance and is part of the regular Met Saturday afternoon broadcasts.
See http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/broadcast/operainfo.aspx for participating radio stations (most of these offer web streaming).

DK October 5, 2012 at 12:33 am

The attached was forwarded to me.


With Thomas Adès, Robert Lepage, and Met artists, moderated by Peter Gelb
Monday, October 8, 7:30pm EDT* – SOLD OUT
(watch live online at http://www.ustream.tv/worksandprocess)

Met artists, including Simon Keenlyside, will perform excerpts from composer
Thomas Adès’s modern opera The Tempest, directed by Robert Lepage, prior to
its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera. Lepage, who has directed a wide
range of Shakespearean works around the globe and recently staged Wagner’s
four-part epic Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Met, will discuss his approach
to the Bard’s “box full of magic tricks.” Met General Manager Peter Gelb
will moderate the discussion with Adès and Lepage.

*Watch the live stream of the performance at ustream.tv/worksandprocess.
Follow the conversation on Twitter @worksandprocess.

Thomas Adès, Composer
Robert Lepage, Director
Moderated by Peter Gelb, General Manager, The Metropolitan Opera

Prospero: Simon Keenlyside
Miranda: Isabel Leonard
Ariel: Audrey Luna
Caliban: Alan Oke
Ferdinand: Alek Shrader

Ariel, performed by Audrey Luna – Act I, scene five: “Five fathoms deep”

Caliban, performed by Alan Oke – Act II, scene two: “Friends don’t fear”

Ferdinand and Miranda, performed by Alek Shrader and Isabel Leonard – Act
II, scene four: “What was before…”

Prospero, performed by Simon Keenlyside – Act III, scene two: “Their brains
are boiled…”

Excerpts and related visual materials will compliment the discussion.

More about The Tempest
When The Tempest opened at London’s Royal Opera House in February 2004, the
anticipation couldn’t have been more intense. Composer Thomas Adès—only 32
at the time—had already been thrust into the international spotlight in the
previous decade and found himself having to live up to recurrent comparisons
with his similarly precocious compatriot and predecessor Benjamin Britten.
Despite all this pressure, the overwhelming, almost unanimous response to
Adès’s second opera seemed to confirm the parallels. “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,”
wrote The Guardian the day after the occasion. “But it felt that way in the

Time has proved that the initial verdicts weren’t idle hyperbole. The
Tempest belongs to that rare group of contemporary operas whose critical
acclaim is matched by the ultimate practical test of stage-worthiness. In
fact, The Tempest—still less than a decade old—can already boast an
astonishing track record of five different productions: the original Covent
Garden staging (which was revived in 2007 and recorded for EMI’s
award-winning CD), the American premiere at Santa Fe Opera in 2006, two
separate productions in Germany, and now the opera’s premiere at the Met,
which promises to be among the highlights of the new season. Robert Lepage’s
staging is a co-production of the Met, Opéra de Québec, and the Vienna
Staatsoper and will also feature Adès (pronounced AH-diss) making his
company debut as conductor. Reprising his performance as Prospero is
baritone Simon Keenlyside, whose combined vocal and physical presence were
widely admired as ideally suited to the role he created at the Royal Opera

The once-obligatory references to Britten became a kind of shorthand for
English critics eager to spell out the high expectations pinned on Adès. In
fact, he is an artist whose voice is unmistakably and audaciously original.
Many gifted young composers demonstrate an eclectic, anxiety-free facility
when it comes to claiming elements from the musical past for their own
creative tool kit, but what was especially striking about Adès, while he was
still just in his twenties, was the uncanny confidence with which he forged
a rich, complex, allusive language with a coherence all its own.

Even more, before the millennium Adès had already found exciting ways to
develop his flair for formal, abstract structures, vivid orchestration, and
spirited detail while also demonstrating a compelling theatrical instinct.
His range was apparent, whether in writing for a large Mahlerian orchestra
(the symphonic Asyla, commissioned for the Berlin Philharmonic, for example)
or in his first work for the stage, the chamber opera Powder Her Face
(1995). The latter, which used the scandalous story of an aristocrat’s fall
from grace to ironically turn the mirror back on a tabloid-saturated
culture, also revealed Adès’s extraordinary feel for portraying characters
in music. With the far vaster canvas of The Tempest, he progressed to a
mature mastery of his art, taming the often volatile energy found in his
youthful scores into a sustained, emotionally gripping arc.

Shakespeare’s beloved final romance, remarks Adès, “is famously full of
references to music, while the intangibility of some of its characters has
always inspired music.” Purcell, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, and Berio are just a
few of the many composers who have fallen sway to its spell; even Mozart,
near the end of his life, may have contemplated turning The Tempest into an
opera. Yet instead of finding himself daunted by the weight of associations
bound up with the source material—above all by the sheer power and poetry of
Shakespeare’s language—Adès discovered a fresh approach to “translating” the
Bard’s vision into opera.

The composer collaborated closely with librettist Meredith Oakes, an
Australian-born playwright and poet whose talent for evoking traditional
poetic patterns through “a very specific, archaistic style” felt
particularly appropriate. Oakes devised a structure both elegant and
efficient by distilling the amplitude of the original verse into pithy,
condensed couplets that echo the play’s most famous passages in eminently
singable phrases—instead of competing with them. Many of the couplets take
the form of half-rhymes or slant-rhymes that acquire an extra charge by
being ever so slightly off. The result, Adès says, “is a translation of
Shakespeare into modern English, to be all the more faithful and concentrate
the drama.”

Yet the three-act opera remains remarkably true to the arc of Shakespeare’s
story and the spirit of his characters, while at the same time opening up
the creative space necessary for Adès to add the unique perspective of his
musical imagination. “I want it to be The Tempest. I want it to be
Shakespeare and to bring that vision into the opera house as faithfully as
possible,” the composer points out. “We actually started further away from
the play than we ended up but found ourselves going back to Shakespeare’s
structure much more.” But to achieve such fidelity—as opposed to a pale
imitation—Adès and Oakes determined early on that they needed to swerve away
from dogged, literal re-creation.

The most striking shift involves the opera’s conception of Prospero, the
former Duke of Milan who, in the back story, has been usurped by his brother
Antonio and shipwrecked on an island with his young daughter, Miranda.
Prospero’s desire for vengeance is more pointed in the opera, as is his
related assertion of control over the island’s indigenous creatures—Ariel
and Caliban—and over Miranda’s emerging emotional autonomy as she falls in
love with Ferdinand, his enemy’s son. The libretto provided Adès with
clearer “musical emotions” that motivate the dynamics of enslavement and
liberation in the story as well as the transforming power of love and
compassion. The real turning point, observes the composer, comes when Ariel
tells Prospero that the suffering he has caused his enemies to endure would
soften Ariel’s own heart if he were human. “And it’s the moment when
Prospero realizes he’s gone too far and has to stop.”

Lepage, well known to Met audiences for his stagings of Berlioz’s The
Damnation of Faust and Wagner’s Ring cycle, praises the opera for capturing
the “magic” of what is often considered the playwright’s final artistic
testament. Not surprisingly for this wizard of theatrical illusion, the
figure of Prospero has long fascinated Lepage, who has directed numerous
productions of Shakespeare’s play. Each time he returns to it, he uncovers
new insights. For his own concept of the opera, Lepage has expanded its aura
of magic into a metaphor for artistic performance itself, envisioning
Prospero as an 18th-century impresario of La Scala, the opera house in
Milan, which he has recreated on the island of his banishment as a reminder
of home.

“In those days, La Scala was a very magical place to set operas because it
had all of the new state-of-the-art machinery,” Lepage explains. “The beach
where everybody is marooned is actually a stage that’s been planted there
and constructed by Prospero.” Lepage adds that each of the three acts
presents a different perspective—from the stage itself, from the auditorium,
and what goes on behind and off stage—to encompass this
“opera-within-an-opera house.” Members of his creative team will be making
their Met debuts: Jasmine Catudal designed the sets, and the costumes are by
Kym Barrett (known for her collaborations with Baz Luhrmann and her work on
The Matrix films). The overall look will marry a sense of the island’s
“native, aboriginal culture” with the Italian Baroque sensibility imported
by the European interlopers.

Lepage’s mastery of both traditional stagecraft and its most up-to-date
technological forms provides an ideal complement to the composer’s unique
fusion of a classic play with a contemporary vision of opera. In his musical
characterizations of the five leads, for example, Adès developed wonderfully
effective alternatives to the vocal type casting that might have tempted a
less-imaginative composer. While Ariel, a male character played by a
soprano, sings in a stratospheric tessitura (frequently perching on Ds, Es,
and Fs above high C, even reaching to G), “this isn’t a way of expressing
high emotion and shouldn’t feel like the top of the singer’s range. That’s
where she lives.” Ariel is an elemental force of nature who—in another
alteration of the original source—sings the final airborne phrase and
becomes the wind again. Her island counterpart, the “monster” Caliban, is
depicted not as a “lumpen, earthy brute” with a bass voice but is a lyrical
tenor. “He’s often described in the play as being like an eel or a fish, and
I suddenly thought he could be more like one of those exotic, wonderful
voices from the East, with a weird elegance. And of course he is an
aristocrat, not only in his own mind,” says Adès, who gives Caliban one of
the most radiantly beautiful passages in the score: his aria reassuring the
shipwrecked newcomers not to fear the island’s “noises.”

As for Prospero, the composer created a fully dimensional baritone role
(with shades of Verdi’s and Wagner’s authoritarian father figures) who
nevertheless defies the stereotype of the wise old sage. Adès was especially
inspired by crafting the role for Keenlyside. “Simon’s a terrifically
physical performer who projects youth. In a way, it’s that characterization,
as much as the extraordinary voice, that was on my mind. I don’t think of
Prospero as an old man. This is the only play of Shakespeare which observes
the classical unities of happening in one place, in one day. When Prospero
meditates on the evanescence of life, my feeling is actually it’s not that
he does that every day and has been doing it for years and he’s an old bore.
It’s that he’s just realizing it at that exact moment. That’s the first time
he’s thought this.”

While Adès writes for the voice with great character, his score is also
distinguished by its symphonic intricacy and architecture. This quality
provides the opera with a richly satisfying cohesion and unity. Adès
achieves this not through conventional leitmotif technique but by expertly
manipulating his uniquely evocative harmonic language. He explains: “The
music has its own internal logic of relationships; it doesn’t just do what
it wants to do because the characters suddenly decide to go somewhere. It’s
a tissue that’s woven in, so that everything is related in the music, and
all the elements create a view of the world that’s whole, a sphere.” —Thomas May

Works & Process at the Guggenheim
For over 28 years and in over 350 productions, New Yorkers have been able to
see, hear, and meet the most acclaimed artists in the world, in an intimate
setting unlike any other. Works & Process, the performing arts series at the
Guggenheim, has championed new works, offered audiences unprecedented access
to our generation’s leading creators and performers, and hosted post-show
receptions for the audiences and artists to continue the discussion. Each
80-minute performance uniquely combines artistic creation and stimulating
conversation and takes place in the Guggenheim’s intimate Frank Lloyd
Wright-designed 285-seat Peter B. Lewis Theater. Described by The New York
Times as “an exceptional opportunity to understand something of the creative
process,” Works & Process is produced by founder Mary Sharp Cronson.

Lead funding provided by The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation with additional
support from The Christian Humann Foundation, Leon Levy Foundation, and
Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Inc. This program is supported in part by public
funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership
with the City Council.

For more information, please contact:
Duke Dang
Works & Process at the Guggenheim
(212) 758-0024

Ally October 4, 2012 at 9:42 pm
Jane October 3, 2012 at 2:16 pm

I know you posted that message in May, Sue, but thank you so much because as a result, you made me think to check the Exeter Picturehouse website in good time and so I bought my ticket for the screening of the Tempest several weeks ago. Really looking forward to it!

Sue May 14, 2012 at 10:19 am

A timely tip – my local cinema is already taking bookings for the live screening from the Met on 10 November.

Petra February 25, 2012 at 10:25 am

Found the comment in a newspaper too that Tempest “opens at L’Opera de Quebec this July” … but also found a quote in another newspaper that Rodney Gilfrey will sing Prospero in Quebec.
I am still hoping for Vienna!!!

diana jones February 25, 2012 at 10:14 am

According to Cyberpresse, it looks like Simon will be singing Prospero in Quebec in July. Good news for Canadian fans!

Lucia February 24, 2012 at 4:32 am

Keeping my fingers crossed the Live in HD from the MET will work according to plan in Argentina so I can have the opportunity to watch what it seems it’s going to be a wonderful production. And, well, having the privilege to watch Simon perform is something to look forward to!

Thank you for the heads up! (And once again, thank you for this *fantastic* website!) 🙂

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