Ionarts in Santa Fe: The Tempest Revisited (August 3, 2006)
More on "The Tempest" (July 30, 2006)
The Tempest (July 29, 2006)
Preview: Santa Fe Opera, Summer 2006 (July 19, 2006)
Craig Smith, Ades brings telling sea change to 'Tempest' (Santa Fe New Mexican, July 31) [The cranky comments on this article are not to be believed.--Ed.]
J. A. Van Sant, Strong Tempest at Santa Fe (Opera Today, July 31)
Scott Cantrell, New take on 'The Tempest' (Dallas Morning News, August 4)
James R. Oestreich, Santa Fe Opera Offers Love on a Stormy Island (New York Times, August 5)
Joshua Kosman, Thomas Adès' American premiere of 'Tempest' opera is a magical marvel of sound (San Francisco Chronicle, August 5)
Shakespeare's play is a confusing aesthetic experience. It is a complicated story that does not necessarily leave you with any clear message. By removing its subtleties, the libretto also bleaches out most of the interest. You will not recognize Shakespeare's characters in the operatic version. Prospero is no longer the omnipotent thaumaturge: in Shakespeare, he directs Ariel to bring Ferdinand and his daughter, Miranda, together and is happy to see love blossom between them, having already announced his plan to see his child married to the son of his mortal enemy. In the opera, Prospero is helpless to stop the two young people from falling in love, and it seems to be against his plans.
Ariel is not explicitly a male spirit, but the possessive pronoun applied by Shakespeare is "his" instead of "her," while Adès and Oakes cast Ariel as one of the most striking coloratura roles ever conceived for the stage. The host of other spirits in the masque scenes of Shakespeare's plays almost disappear in the opera, to be replaced by a chorus identified as "The Court," a host of well-heeled people who land on the island with Antonio, Sebastian, and Gonzalo. The opera enhances the roles of Prospero's enemies, while diminishing the characters at the center of the play. Nothing happens in Shakespeare's play without being part of Prospero's ultimate plan, while in the opera the action seems to overwhelm Prospero, leaving Ariel and Caliban the apparent victors, in possession of the island.
The Tempest, Santa Fe Opera, set and costumes designed by Paul Brown,
photo by Ken Howard © 2006
Director Jonathan Kent and set/costume designer Paul Brown wanted to flood the orchestra pit, a plan that was, wisely, not approved. They did incorporate a small pool of water at the front of the stage. In the dissonant eponymous storm that begins the opera, the chorus members of the Court rise up from an opening and pass through the pool, walking like zombies out of the water and across the yellow sand of the island. The basic set does not change through the opera's three acts, a raked island covered with yellow material that shines brightly under the lights. Several trap doors allow characters to sink into the island, as if in quicksand, or rise out of it, as Ariel does on a ladder. A large, leafless tree grows from the upstage corner, where Ariel and Prospero often hover over the proceedings. The costumes play with the juxtaposition of the desert island fantasy world with modern reality. The members of the Court look more or less like the British royal family and retinue. Ariel, spirit of the air, is a blue-plumed bird, and Caliban's "costume" consists mostly of a few splashes of mud.
Toby Spence as Ferdinand and Patricia Risley as Miranda, The Tempest, Santa Fe Opera, set and costumes designed by Paul Brown, photo by Ken Howard © 2006
Cyndia Sieden as Ariel, The Tempest, Santa Fe Opera, costume designed by Paul Brown, photo by Ken Howard © 2006
The Santa Fe Opera has scheduled only three more performances of The Tempest, on August 2, 11, and 17. I will hear the first of those, but if I were in New Mexico through the end of August, I would be happy to hear all of them.