By Carole Reedy
Combine Shakespeare’s 17th-century romance with the backdrop of Milan’s 18th-century Baroque La Scala Opera House. Then sit back and enjoy Thomas Adès’ 21st-century opera, a magical production both musically and visually.
This Met premiere and new production by Robert Lepage, most recently remembered for his staging of the ambitious Wagner Ring Cycle (which he created for the Met), promises to amaze, as does most of his work. Imagine this: In order to play tricks on his enemies, Prospero, an 18th-century impresario from Milan, surrounds himself with a scale-sized La Scala opera house on the island of his banishment. “A boxful of magic tricks” takes place, acrobats and dancers all around. Lepage explains that each of the three acts presents a different perspective—from the stage itself, from the auditorium, and from backstage and off-stage—to make up this “opera-within-an-opera house.”
Composed in 2004 by Thomas Adès, who will conduct his creation in NY November 10, the three-act opera remains true to the arc of Shakespeare’s story as well as to the spirit of his characters. Adés says, “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.”
For this production, the language of Shakespeare’s time his been translated to modern English. Baritone Simon Keenlyside, who created the role of Prospero for the 2004 Covent Garden production, has been praised not only for his voice but for his stage acting. Robert Lepage says “he sings with his body.”
After seeing the American premiere of the opera in Santa Fe, New Mexico, reviewer Gerald Dugan declared it was probably the best new opera he’d ever seen, giving three reasons why he feels it is extraordinary:
- Adès, both in this opera and his earlier opera Powder Her Face, has a unique voice as a composer. He writes music that is authentically his own, that reminds one of nobody else. He is a genuine original.
- In The Tempest, Adès and his librettists have done something quite daring to their central protagonist, Prospero. The calm, philosophical magician of Shakespeare’s play, who exhibits few if any overt expressions of rage at his fate, becomes much more human in this opera in that he gives in to emotions of rage, bitterness, and sadistic joy at causing his enemies discomfort.
- Finally, Adès is equally innovative musically in his treatment of Prospero’s two supernatural helpers, Ariel and Caliban.
If you’re in Mexico City, don’t miss Sergio Vela’s charla before the opera at 10:30 a.m. in the Lunario (behind the Auditorio). Check to see if it’s being transmitted to other sites in the country.
Extraordinary opera, extraordinary composer, and an extraordinary afternoon. Enjoy!
Carole Reedy attends all Met transmissions and other opera events in Mexico City, where she lives. Contact her at email@example.com