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  • The Geometry of Thomas Adès’s The Tempest
  • Theodore Leinwand (bio)
Thomas Adès’s The Tempest: A Review Portfolio
  • Prospero: Simon Keenlyside

  • Miranda: Isabel Leonard

  • Ariel: Audrey Luna

  • Caliban: Alan Oke

  • Ferdinand: Alek Shrader

  • Stefano: Kevin Burdette

  • Trinculo: Iestyn Davies

  • Antonio: Toby Spence

  • Sebastian: Christopher Feigum

  • Gonzalo: John Del Carlo

  • Alonso, King of Naples: William Burden New York City, The Metropolitan Opera

  • Composer: Thomas Adès

  • Libretto: Meredith Oakes

    Production premiere: October 23, 2012

  • Production direction: Robert Lepage, with Ex Machina

  • Musical director: Thomas Adès

  • Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera

  • Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera

[End Page 152]

What happens when an opera stages a play that is filled not just with the music of song and of Shakespeare’s mature verse but with noise? Lots of noise. The clever Shakespearean title of Thomas Adès and Tom Service’s recent book of “conversations”—Full of Noises—should remind us that the soundscape of Shakespeare’s The Tempest encompasses a good deal more than Ariel’s “Full fathom five,” Caliban’s “No more dams,” and the wedding masque songs.1 The play reverberates with a veritable “din” (1.1.371). Its opening stage direction calls for “A tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning” as the ship’s Master strives to make his “whistle” (1.1.7) heard above the “howling” (1.1.36) courtiers’ cries (“A cry within”; “A confused noise within”—1.1.36 and 59). When Sebastian and Antonio emerge on deck, they curse the Boatswain, a “whoreson, insolent noisemaker” (1.1.43–44). From the shore, Miranda responds with alarm to what Ariel describes as “fire and cracks / Of sulphurous roaring [that] the most mighty Neptune / Seem to besiege and make his bold waves tremble” (1.2.203–5). Meanwhile Prospero, her exultant father, rejoices that there is none “so firm, so constant that this coil [uproar] / Would not infect his reason” (1.2.207–8).

Not just the storm but the isle, too, is “full of noises” (3.2.134). Besides the “sweet airs” (3.3.135), “solemn and strange music” (SD 3.3.17), and “marvelous sweet music” (3.3.19) that are broadcast widely, we hear of a “thousand twangling instruments” (3.2.136), thunder that sounds like a “deep and dreadful organ pipe” (3.3.99), and a “strange, hollow, and confused noise” (SD 4.1.138). The ambient island cacophony enables Sebastian to persuade Alonso that what awakened the Neapolitan king was “a hollow burst of bellowing / Like bulls, or rather lions.” According to Antonio, it was “a din to fright a monster’s ear, / To make an earthquake” (2.1.310–11 and 313–14). Late in the play, we learn that Ariel awakened the mariners with “strange and several noises / Of roaring, shrieking, howling, jingling chains, / And more diversity of sounds, all horrible” (5.1.232–35). But most dreadful of all are the discordant sounds made by the island’s torturers and by their victims: spirits “who with cloven tongues / Do hiss [Caliban] into madness” (2.2.13–14); “goblins that . . . grind . . . joints” (4.1.258); “groans” vented “as fast as mill wheels strike” (1.2.280–81); buzzing, pinching, stinging bees (1.2.329–30); punishment that makes Caliban “roar / That beasts . . . tremble at thy din” (1.2.370–71). If [End Page 153] Shakespeare’s play activates a soundtrack that alternates between lyricism and confused noise, then Adès, who tells Service that his music always tacks back and forth between “stability and instability” (ix), has produced an answering, now melodic, now raucous, operatic score. But Adès also, and rather cryptically, says that he “wanted something that would make a geometry from the play, a more right-angled geometry” (159). If we grant that such a geometry bisects the stability/instability axis, then in Adès’s The Tempest, Ariel is the play’s chief geometrician.

Exemplary and, among coloratura sopranos, no doubt notorious are Ariel’s earsplitting music and her often incomprehensible lyrics. As we try to make sense of what we hear from her, we should keep in mind that Ariel herself has been tortured, confined for twelve years in a...


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