Thomas Ades "The Tempest" is the mystical, spirit filled, good vs evil side of Shakespeare's Play. Nearly all of the mistaken identities and comedy are left out except for two characters who provide comic relief. The use of a soprano as one of the two men suggesting cross dressing of one of the comic relief characters is the only bow to that side of Shakespeare's play. The opera concentrates on the interactions of Prospero, Miranda, Ferdinand, Caliban, and Ariel. The King of Naples grieves heavily and well for his supposedly lost son, Ferdinand. Sebastian comes across well as the not so popular, nor gifted, scheming second son.
The singing is superb, in an obviously very difficult score. The harmonic jumps and the strange accents both Prospero and Arial make are well done and suit their characters. It just is not easy to listen to. Miranda and Ferdinand sing several lovely love duets. Isabel Leonard as Miranda does a great job of contrasting her character to that of Simon Keenlyside, her father, Propero. Alek Schrader portrays the exceedingly handsome, ethical, popular prince very well. Alek even manages to sing well tied in a Crucifixion posture. John del Carlo as the bass Gonzalo is fantastic, and his summary aria in the last act is one of the opera's highlights. Even the chorus gets into the acting with their surprise at being clean and well dressed after the storm, the despair and fatigue after wandering the island, and their surprise and marveling at the sudden appearance of "provisions," an elaborately set supper, candelabras and all, worthy of any palace.
The staging and costumes are marvelous, imaginative, and clearly indicate the nature of the characters. Ferdinand in all white is every bit the hero. Caliban in a see through black outfit, and Prospero, shirtless with lots of weird tattoos, are obviously the villains. Ariel in a tight body suit of pale purple ruffles is as other worldly as possible. The island is portrayed as mystical and makes a good backdrop, used very effectively in several different ways through the opera.
The orchestra does very well, leading the singers without overpowering them. The composer, Thomas Ades, conducted. He could have been a bit more formal, but the unshaven look with a loose tshirt looking shirt under a black coat is in vogue for conductors.
The production, by Robert LePage, is very well done. Characters keep crawling out of prompting boxes and from under the raised portions of the stage. The scene of Ferdinand being pulled by his arms through the middle of the floor of the stage is very effective. The only scene I did not like was Sebastian backing off stage talking about dying. While he is feeling lost and has lost his heritage, It is not made clear to the audience what happened to him. The dvd quality is good. The camera work is good with appropriate closeups of the characters.
Overall, this is a production well worth seeing and having in one's library of modern opera.