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'Tempest' on CD

available at Amazon
Adès, The Tempest, S. Keenlyside, C. Sieden, I. Bostridge, K. Royal, T. Spence, P. Langridge, Covent Garden, T. Adès

(released on June 30, 2009)
EMI 50999 6 95234 2 7
At the American premiere of The Tempest, the appealing new opera by Thomas Adès, I wrote at some length about its strengths and weaknesses as it was presented at Santa Fe Opera (follow the links in the right column of that review for the related posts). One performance of the world premiere production, at Covent Garden in 2004, was recorded for a BBC broadcast, but an indisposed Ian Bostridge had to be replaced for that performance. The official word from EMI is that a DVD of the opera is not planned, for now at least. What is finally available is this two-CD set, recorded over two evenings at the 2007 revival of the opera at Covent Garden. As well as providing me a chance to become more familiar with what is, to my ears, one of the most successful and worthy new operas of the last 20 years, the recording opens a different window on the work. Most of the original cast appeared again at this revival: of the six principals, only Kate Royal did not create her role (Miranda -- it was Christine Rice in 2004), although the supporting cast was completely different at the premiere. Unlike the Santa Fe performance, the composer himself is at the podium, which can only heighten one's interest.

The sounds of stage movement, occasional odd balances and vocal blemishes, and audience noise are an unfortunate fact of live recording. Toby Spence, who does beautiful, lyrical things with the role of Ferdinand, has admitted that, at first, many of the singers who created the opera were not sure that what Adès intended for them to do was even possible. This is especially true of the outrageous role for the air spirit Ariel, so memorably created in a frothy, even at times squeaky -- entirely otherworldly -- way by fearless soprano Cyndia Sieden. Hearing her live was a heart-stopping experience, something that is not possible to capture in recording. The monster Caliban had similar challenges, with some of the extremely high notes rendered in an almost hissing falsetto by Ian Bostridge. The one slightly weak link in the Santa Fe cast was Prospero, here sung with magisterial authority by the role's creator, Simon Keenlyside, who will reportedly also take the role in the production of The Tempest planned for the fall of 2012 at the Metropolitan Opera, with (one can only hope) a DVD to follow. As good as it would be to have a studio recording of better quality for this gorgeous opera, it is unlikely to happen anytime soon.


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