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29.7.06

More on "The Tempest"

Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, Santa Fe, N.Mex.Ionarts made it to New Mexico on Wednesday night. This morning, I made my way down to the Scottish Rite Masonic Center (how fitting given the correlation of Shakespeare's The Tempest to The Magic Flute noted yesterday) on the Paseo de Peralta in Santa Fe, a building (shown here) that could fit in only in a city like Santa Fe (noxious rose walls joining false Gothic and Moorish architectural elements). I was fighting my way past hordes of tourists descending on the Spanish market to attend a symposium on The Tempest sponsored by Santa Fe Opera. The round table discussion brought together Toby Spence (the creator of the role of Ferdinand, who is singing the same part here), director Jonathan Kent, composer Thomas Adès, and set and costume designer Paul Brown.

Symposium on The Tempest, Santa Fe Opera, July 29, 2006In an introductory exchange about the genesis of the opera, the composer described the work of librettist Meredith Oakes, who wrote a loosely rhymed, more metrical version of Shakespeare's text, reordering some events, compacting, sometimes expanding. Alex Ross already lamented the loss of some of the most famous phrases in the English language ("Full fathom five thy father lies," "We are such things as dreams are made of") in the libretto. Jonathan Kent said it was a wise decision to move away from Shakespeare, in spite of Britten's success in setting the words directly, because the "music of the text would interfere with or leave no room for the music of the composer." It also allowed composer and librettist to recast the story, tell it more efficiently and more directly, and craft operatic characters from those fashioned by Shakespeare.

The director and designer collaborated a few years ago on an outlandish production of Shakespeare's The Tempest, which included flooding the Almeida Theater's basement and destroying part of the roof so that characters could be flown in from outside. (The theater was about to be closed for renovations, so they had some latitude.) Jonathan Dove composed the incidental music for that production. When they began to discuss the concept for the opera, they first gave thought to flooding the orchestra pit to create a real lake, but more rational minds prevailed. The orchestra remained dry, but Kent and Brown did come up with a technically exciting (if minimalistic) production.

Sign in Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, Santa Fe, N.Mex.Has Adès changed anything in the score since the premiere? The question was put to him, and he answered that he made changes, but nothing that significant. The librettist altered a few words, and Adès lightened and otherwise tweaked some of the orchestration. He also sped up the opera overall, tightening the pace. "How is the opera different? 'Louder, slower'," he joked, referring to Toby Spence's earlier reference to a sign at the back of the balcony, with neon words that can cue speakers in the theater to speak up and slow down. Apparently, he did not tone down any of the vocal roles, most of which explore the extremes of the singing voice. The most notorious case is Ariel, cast by Adès as a coloratura soprano on speed. Some of the reviews of the premiere remarked on the outrageous demands of the part and the resulting unintelligibility of the words she sings. Adès explained that he viewed the character not as a human but as a spirit of the air and that her language, magical as it is, would probably be understood only by Prospero anyway.

Performances of The Tempest are scheduled at Santa Fe Opera on July 29 and August 2, 11, and 17. My review will follow shortly.

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