|Opening of the Tempest Photo (c) Met Opera/Ken Howard|
Robert Lepage's production (located often inside a model of La Scala as it was in the eighteenth century) was not infrequently thoughtful, but it was not coherently so. Many of its most interesting ideas appeared in the final tableau, where I saw for the first time serious engagement with the reasons for presenting the drama inside an opera house. The chorus exults in their pardon: do we go to the opera to get our sins forgiven? Do we need to go through the harrowing of hell to receive this absolution? Ferdinand and Miranda are radiant and radiantly illuminated on the stage. Is this what we want to be promised--the future of the young lovers--at any cost, and no matter how artificially engineered? Here (at last) it became fully apparent that Prospero's theater is a trap to him as well as to those he manipulates with and in it. For the most part, however, I couldn't see that Lepage was doing much beyond spatially confusing the narrative. If layering of narratives was going on, I couldn't make it out: however artificial the tableaux he stages, Prospero's dilemma, and his corrosive anger, are stunningly real. Some of the incoherencies must be attributed to the plot as well as the production. Why is the full court of Naples (and Milan) under sail? And why does Prospero drown them only to resuscitate them? The further question raised by Lepage's production--what does this say about the reanimation of the dead by theatrical art--was left hanging. Caliban also fared badly; the production clad and choreographed him as a simian savage, and the rest of the island inhabitants fared not much better. (I literally cringed during some of the dance sequences; postcolonialism takes harder work than casual appropriation of stereotypes.) The libretto, too, though significantly altered from the Shakespearean plot (and replacing his verse with halting rhymes) has Caliban as lustful, treacherous, gullible, and prey to base desires. Those who denigrate him can of course be viewed as unreliable and manipulative narrators, but this doesn't fully solve the problem. The sea-change the drama undergoes at the hands of Adès and librettist Meredith Oakes creates scenarios rich and strange indeed.
Scarcely any of the characters is left unaltered. Stephano (Kevin Burdette) and Trinculo (the fantastic Iestyn Davies) retain a comic function, but their greed for the riches of the island is made sinister indeed by Adès' music. I was delighted by Davies' clear and expressive singing, which was paired with excellent comic timing. The courtiers of Naples and Milan were also well-cast. John Del Carlo was a solid if slightly dry Gonzalo; he is clearly the most idealistic of the group, speaking of liberty and providence. William Burden, as the grief-stricken King of Naples, was indeed so compelling that I had forgiven his past scheming long before his public confession of remorse. Prospero's brother Antonio (beautifully sung by Toby Spence) was another story entirely: grimly determined in his suave manipulation of a corrupt and manipulative system. Alan Oke's Caliban seemed vocally typecast, but he handled his difficult music with assurance. Perhaps least changed is the ardent Ferdinand, sweet-natured and sweetly sung by Alek Shrader in his Met debut (a suspicion of strain at the top of his range made me wonder whether the house might not be a shade too large for his voice; but it is a beautiful voice.) Isabel Leonard, as Miranda, proved herself once again to be a stylish singer and a gifted actress. She sang fluidly, varying her vocal color impressively. Miranda's qualities of the play are not so much changed as magnified: she has the natural egoism of youth and the unnaturally complete innocence which her father has taken such pains to preserve. Leonard's Miranda is intelligent enough to resent this, and she does not empathize with her father as much as she does with Ferdinand; knowing nothing of the world, she does not comprehend her father's sorrow. Adès' vision of the blithe spirit Ariel is a hauntingly uncanny one, requiring astonishing vocal acrobatics. Audrey Luna executed these, in addition to the physical acrobatics required by Lepage's production with considerable panache. The eerie otherness of Ariel's music makes his interactions with Prospero unusually interesting.
|Hybrid identities? Keenlyside as Prospero (c) Met Opera|
Curtain call photos:
|Chorus in the great globe... er, La Scala|
|Stephano and Trinculo (Burdette, Davies)|
|Courtiers Spence, Del Carlo, Burden, Feigum|
|Shrader, Leonard, Keenlyside, Luna, Oke|
|With Lepage and Oakes|