The Tempest, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, November 2012

This remarkable opera by Thomas Adès, to a libretto by Meredith Oakes, dares turn Shakespeare’s play into an opera, and succeeds.

All images MetOpera/ Ken Howard

First performed in 2004 at Covent Garden in an intriguing production by Tom Cairns, it was originally co-produced with the Copenhagen Opera House and the Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg. This production at the Met by Robert Lepage, co-produced with the Quebec Opera and the Vienna State Opera, shows Prospero’s body tattooed with knowledge from the vast library he owned in Milan before his exile, whereas in Cairns’ production he used a laptop. That single difference is emblematic of the distinction between these productions, the first ethereal, the second set on the stage of an early nineteenth century La Scala with costumes to match. Rather appropriate since the play shows how Prospero’s stage magic wins him back the Dukedom of Milan plus a marital alliance with the Kingdom of Naples.

Prospero and Miranda

The forging of that alliance, between his daughter Miranda and Prince Ferdinand of Naples, is rather different from Shakespeare, where one might suppose that Prospero intended it all along. Here the libretto makes clear that he greatly detests the intrusion of Ferdinand, and in this production he strings him up.

Prospero and Ariel

The Met did well to cast Simon Keenlyside as Prospero, which he sang in the original production and performed here with huge vocal strength and commanding stage presence. Isabel Leonard as his daughter Miranda was a study in perfection, and she and Alek Shrader as Ferdinand made a lovely couple. As Prospero’s monstrous servant Caliban, Alan Oke made a terrific impression from his very first entrance, and in this production he appeared almost as a dark alter-ego to his master. He, Prospero and Miranda, inhabitants of the island before the storm that brings Prospero’s enemies to judgement, carried the opera between them, but other roles were notably well performed. Toby Spence, who sang Ferdinand in London, came over very well as Antonio, the usurper who took the Dukedom of Milan from his brother, and Christopher Feigum sang strongly as brother to the King of Naples, nobly represented by William Burden.

The production starts with a gymnastic Ariel cavorting on a chandelier with shipwrecked passengers bobbing around in a stormy sea. Soon after, Audrey Luna as the singing Ariel showed she was no mean gymnast herself as she flitted about, barely ever touching the ground. Carried by invisible hands at times she seemed to float, and finally became a twelve legged insect hovering above the stage, a remarkable physical performance.


Congratulations to the Met for putting on a modern British opera, conducted by the composer himself, who provides a beautiful musical tapestry, from the devilishly magical to a gentle love duet for Ferdinand and Miranda. Such is the stuff that dreams are made on, and at the end Caliban is alone, all others being melted into air, into thin air.

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