Wednesday November 14, 2012 - I find myself running hot and cold when it comes to the music of Thomas Ades. His opera POWDER HER FACE is pretty annoying, but his violin concerto as set by Wayne McGregor for the ballet OUTLIER is striking. So when Dmitry and I were trying to find ten operas to attend at The Met this season (a more daunting task than you might thnk, given the routine casting of has-been singers and the ongoing parade of unmagical, inter-changeable productions) we decided to give THE TEMPEST a try.
I'm perfectly open to 'modern' music and the orchestral score for THE TEMPEST is technically impressive and often appealing, with a rich variety of textures and some fantastical sounds. But as an opera, the evening was not very inspiring...at least not as long as we managed to endure.
Not a literal setting of Shakespeare's play, it is more of a portait of these iconic characters: Prospero, Miranda, Ariel and Caliban. Until Ferdinand appears in the first act's final minutes, the roughly 35-minute opening scene consists of a long duet for Miranda and her father, followed by the introduction of Ariel and then Caliban, each of them having a dialogue with Prospero.
Simon Keenlyside as Prospero looks magnificent and sings with powerful assurance. Isabel Leonard looks dutifully pretty but her tremulous voice lacks personality and her diction was incomprehensible. This role needs a young Dame Janet Baker or a Frederca von Stade: someone with the verbal acuity and tonal allure to make the music meaningful. The two singers ambled on in their long duet; Simon's diction was scarcely better than Isabel's so I can only assume they were hashing over the events that led them to the island and the upcoming arrival of the ship-wrecked visitors. Yes, I could have flipped on my Met Titles...but I shouldn't have needed to.
Audrey Luna, in a spangled body-stocking, then appeared as Ariel. The vocal writing for this character lies in the extreme upper register and while one can only admire Ms. Luna's audaciousness in delivering the goods, this gimmick wore thin very quickly. I couldn't help wondering what this is doing to Ms. Luna's cords; and also wondering: who is her cover?
Alan Oke appeared next, singing powerfully as Caliban. I began to understand some of the words - and wished that I couldn't. I flipped on my Met Titles and found that the things these characters were saying are very ordinary and almost juvenile. I flipped them off.
Alek Shrader then appeared as Ferdinand, his lovely timbre a balm to the ear. But Dmitry and I were getting restless and so, during the break after Act I, we slipped out.
The much-touted 'magic' of the production was mainly lacking in Act I: a comical dumbshow of the sinking ship and the floundering passengers, then Ariel (a dancing double, I assume) climbing on a spinning chandelier. But then things immediately settled in and the remaining 30 minutes of Act I took place on a bare stage of polished wood with some light bulbs shining in our eyes. The huge photograph of the auditorium at La Scala could be seen at the back; I assume it comes forward as the opera moves on. But we didn't stay to find out.