Saturday 24 March 2007

The Tempest

Last night we were at Thomas Ades's The Tempest at the Royal Opera House. We saw the opera (from the stalls) when it was premièred and it was interesting seeing it again, this time from the Amphitheatre. I understand that Ades has not made any significant changes to the piece since its première. But it was completed at the very last minute and the most obvious difference in last night's performance was the way the the piece seemed to flow better,to be more of a piece.

It is still a powerful work and Tom Cairns production is astonishing, a real counterpart to Ades's complex, multi-layered text. The ROH Orchestra, directed by Ades himself, were in fine form, making light of the complex orchestra textures. Simon Keenlyside repeated his Prospero, his compelling performance more than compensating for the fact that the role lacks poetry and the vocal line seems to resolutely set in recitative mode. But perhaps this is part of the conception, the poetic elements seem to be assigned to other singers, notably Ian Bostridge as Caliban and perhaps Cyndia Sieden as Ariel. Bostridge's Caliban gets the rather poetic close to the whole opera, his character is never the ugly monster of Shakespeare, but more the outsider. Sieden's portrayal of Ariel is astounding, but she seems to have played it in every performance of the opera anywhere. I still wonder how other singers will cope with the stratospheric part and found that after a while the constant high notes sat uneasily on my ear.

Toby Spence repeated the role of Ferdinand and Kate Royal played Miranda, both were very strong. I still feel that the courtiers and others surrounding the King of Naples are given insufficient time to establish character. Philip Langridge was profoundly moving as the King of Naples, but the others had a struggle to make us understand who they are. The 'comic' servants still seem very un-comic and lack a purpose. The other area that still bothers me is the libretto, I just can't take to Meredith Oakes's rhyming verse, especially when the diction is so good, as it was here.

All in all I was impressed on 2nd hearing. The piece is not perfect, but I think that Ades's conception of what he is trying to achieve is rather different from my perception of what I want out of an opera on the subject of the Tempest. So I'll just have to go on trying.

PS. Mirabile Dictu, I am now back on-line with my new PC. The only downside being that I managed to lose 2 weeks worth of emails whilst installing my new software on the PC!

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