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  • Tempest Ex Machina: A Review of the Opera Onstage
  • Majel A. Connery (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

Shakespeare’s The Tempest does not merely lend itself to opera. To this much, a legacy of Tempest composers—of both operas and incidental music—from Arthur Sullivan to Thomas Adès can attest. In fact, one could argue that The Tempest as a play shares such affinity with opera that it has always had difficulty resisting the urge to become one. From its opening storm scene and persistent musical references to a fanciful cast list—which includes, prominently, a magician (Prospero), a monster (Caliban) and a “spirit” (Ariel)—the play is like a tug of war between Shakespeare’s text and the latter’s seeming desire to lift off into sheer special effects. A Sadler’s Wells production of the play in 1847 availed itself of such advanced scenic contraptions as fiery rocks and a magical blaze that surrounded Prospero in the banquet scene.1 During a particularly popular run of the play in the late eighteenth century, London’s Royal Theatre at Drury Lane was forced to move the storm scene that begins the play to the beginning of act 2 in order to quell the objections of those who, coming late to the theater, felt that they had been cheated out of the best part.2 A “machine play par excellence,”3 The Tempest has always been an invitation to scenic daring and formidable stagecraft. And this is why it made so much sense that, for its new production of Adès’s The Tempest, the Metropolitan Opera would turn to Robert Lepage, the director who designed the Cirque du Soleil’s permanent show in Las Vegas, and whose own production company bears the name Ex Machina.

Shakespeare is very clear about The Tempest’s metatheatrical frame. Beginning with the eponymous tempest, the entire play is Prospero’s creation—as he muses, “some vanity of mine art” (4.1.41). He conjures the storm that begins the play and, abjuring his magical “charms” at the conclusion, ends it. Lepage, one might say, is quite a lot like Prospero: a theatrical magician who commands “all the resources of the Jacobean stage—flying devices, trapdoors, ascents and descents, appearing and disappearing theatrical properties, even a wardrobe of costumes.”4 The difference is that where Prospero’s absolute command over nature makes him a kind of god on earth, Lepage is more of a minor deity. After all, the Ring cycle Lepage recently designed for the Metropolitan Opera was notorious not just for its unprecedented devotion to technological wizardry but also for the fact that its much-touted “machine” (a giant construction of twenty-four rotating planks) did not always operate according to plan. For example, the end of Das Rheingold contains one of the cycle’s most potent stage pictures—the gods crossing a rainbow bridge into their [End Page 161] newly constructed Valhalla. In Lepage’s version, Alberich, alone onstage, gazes upon a queue of body doubles, one for each of the gods, walking slowly and effortlessly up a wall as though ascending literally heavenward. But on opening night, Lepage’s machine simply stopped working, leaving the audience, along with Alberich, to stare for what felt like an eternity at a giant, hovering screen saver. Similar, if less spectacular, mishaps plagued Lepage’s Tempest as well. When I saw the production on November 14, 2012, the magic failed twice: an errant shadow—a technician’s hand?—that ruined an otherwise gorgeous computer-generated sunset in act 2 and, somewhat more catastrophically, an insanely flickering footlight that seemed, for the last fifteen minutes of act 3, to be trying to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1476-2870
Print ISSN
0736-0053
Pages
pp. 161-165
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-16
Open Access
No
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