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A swirling 'Tempest,' live from the Met

  • Blog Post by: Claude Peck
  • November 12, 2012 - 5:31 PM

 

Ariel (acrobat Jaime Verazin) oversees a terrific storm at the opening of "The Tempest." Photo by Ken Howard for Metropolitan Opera. 

I know I'm late to the "Live from the Met in HD" party, but I had a great time Saturday afternoon at the simulcast of "The Tempest."

Along with a near-capacity crowd at the Showplace Icon movie theater in St. Louis Park, I was blown away by the powerful flow of music by the outspoken fortysomething British composer Thomas Adès. His opera based on the Shakespeare play is having its Met premiere, with Adès conducting and Simon Keenlyside singing Prospero. 

British baritone Simon Keenlyside as Prospero and mezzo Isabel Leonard as his daughter, Miranda.

At $26, this is a great deal. Not only do you save the airfare  to New York, hotel and pricey Met ticket, you also get all kinds of closeups and behind-the-scenes access that you would never get attending the performance in person. Plus, it's still a live show. Accustomed to seeing movies filmed and edited months or years ago, it's an odd feeling to see an opera on the big screen and realize that if a singer were to fall off a chandelier in New York at the Saturday matinee, we would see it in St. Louis Park.

The production starts with a bang. Adès brings the musical storm within seconds of the opening bars of the overture, and the sprite, Ariel (a body double) does acrobatics on a violently swaying chandelier. The shipwreck survivors float in a wave-tossed fabric sea and wash up on the island where the usurped Prospero and his daughter have been marooned for a dozen years. Standouts in the cast include Alan Oke (a frightening Caliban), Isabel Leonard (a gorgeous, clear-voiced young Miranda) and Audrey Luna, whose vocal parts as Ariel are written in a ridiculously high range that is almost beyond comprehension as words.

The weak point for me is the precisely rhymed and metered couplets into which librettist Meredith Oakes forces Shakespeare's less obedient poetry. These couplets may simplify plot points and ease understanding, but they often veer into Dr. Seusslike territory, working against the sense of odd magic that should be in the air.

Robert Lepage creates lovely stage pictures with a relative scarcity of special effects. Ariel's ability to fly is handled by black-suited extras lifting her out of the lights. Projection, so overused these days, is employed just once, and to good effect, when Miranda and her beloved Ferdinand walk toward an ocean sunset to end the first half.

Soprano Deborah Voigt, who will be on camera in "Les Troyens" later this season at the Met, here is a cheery emcee and well-informed interviewer. I loved watching the small army of stagehands expertly setting up the second act the minute the curtain fell on Act One.

"The Tempest" gets an encore screening on Nov. 28. December sees three new live operas in simulcast: "La Clemenza di Tito (12/1); "Un Ballo in Maschera (12/8) and "Aida" (12/15).  Tickets and schedule here.

Alan Oke as Caliban, Simon Keenlyside as Prospero in composer Thomas Adès' "The Tempest" at the Met Opera.

 

 

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