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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Noises sounds and sweet airs, 4 Oct 2013
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ades: The Tempest [DVD] [2014] (DVD)
Shakespeare usually has to be considerably reworked when adapted to an opera, meaning that it is necessarily condensed, streamlined and stripped largely of its poetry. Having a kind of musical element of its own, The Tempest however would appear to be a work that is more open to musical adaptation than most other Shakespeare works. Considering its scope and range that takes in comedy, family drama and political intrigue, but most notably having a supernatural and musical element that takes in the spirits of the spheres through Ariel and the baseness of the earthy Caliban, the whole drama taking place on a magical island of "noises sounds and sweet airs" - The Tempest would appear to be both a challenge and a gift for a capable musician.

Adès manages to integrate all the rich elements of Shakespeare's work wonderfully, not just accompanying the various strands of comedy, drama and romance that are rather compressed in the dramatic playing, but making up for the lack of poetry in the libretto by deepening the sentiments through the musical dimension. It's not always the most melodic of arrangements, but it's wholly appropriate to the context of the scenes, never discordant and often quite beautiful in its symphonic sweep. The most difficult element - from the point of view of composition, from the nature of the singing challenges and from the assault on the ears of the listener - is however the tricky characterisation of Ariel. It's necessary that Ariel appear to be a spirit creature from another, higher dimension, and Adès expresses the pain of his captivity in the highest extremes of the soprano range. It is by no means easy on the ear or even entirely intelligible, but it does have an otherworldly quality.

That however is just the most extreme example. Elsewhere Adès shows himself capable of strong individual characterisation that not only enriches expression of each individual character but allows them to coexist and work together. Simon Keenlyside (reprising a role that he helped create in the original 2004 Covent Garden production of the work) is a commanding presence that brings Prospero to life and brings a necessary degree of humanity to the part. Audrey Luna is simply astonishing as Ariel, as lithe and agile in her movements as in her voice (Lepage effectively keeping Ariel almost exclusively floating up and above or outside the drama as a mischievous but otherworldly sprite), and the casting of Isabel Leonard and Alek Shrader as the beautiful couple of Miranda and Ferdinand - the great hope for the future - could hardly be more perfect. Leonard's rich and luxurious mezzo-soprano is wonderfully expressive with clear diction and real strength of character, blending wonderfully with Shrader's handsome tenor.

If the singing goes some way towards making a potentially difficult work more accessible, Robert Lepage's stage direction and Jasmine Catudal's clever set designs play their part in helping it all flow together marvellously. The setting of the first act within a reproduction of the La Scala theatre certainly ties in with the notion of music, theatre, opera and even Prospero's claim to be Duke of Milan, but more than being notional, it provided a conceptual approach to the theatricality of the staging, with figures slipping beneath the platform of the stage and dropping into the prompter's box. The Native Indian tattoos and markings on Prospero beneath his military greatcoat, with feathers woven into his hair, and the shaman-like appearance of the disinherited Caliban hint at some of the underlying themes in the work relating to colonisation and exploitation of native populations without needing to take this any further and over-complicate the progression of the drama.

With the composer Thomas Adès himself directing the orchestra from the pit, working to the strengths of the singing and to the movements on the stage, this feels like a truly complete opera production, one where all the elements work with and support the other to create that particular magic that only this particular fusion of music and theatre in the highest levels of opera can achieve.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange Staging, fine singing, 2 Feb 2014
I. Zaneres (west midlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ades: The Tempest [DVD] [2014] (DVD)
The opening overture is exciting, atmospheric and apt for the storm. The struggler's in the waves are rather good.
The setting is modernist, do not think Shakespearian setting, but it does not come amiss, and the various costumes are pretty good.
The music is dramatic, narrative in style, interesting orchestrations. Do not expect any arias, memorable or otherwise.
Audrey Luna is Ariel, we are introduced to her first. Her voice is above the air of which she is comprised, A lot of her sounds are not exactly pretty, nor are they meant to be, but they invoke the character. I am surprised she has any voice left at the end. Just a note here, if you want the words I suggest you use the subtitles. Consonants do not come easily at this register.
Isabel Leonard is a richly toned mezzo and acts her part nicely, she is a very attractive Miranda. It is not surprising that Alek Shrader as Ferdinand falls for her. He has a melodic voice and the score enables him to use to the full.
Prospero, by Simon Keenlyside is finely acted and sung, a watch-able performance with a strange line in costumes, even for a magician.
Perhaps the star of the show should be Alan Oke, a fine tenor voice for a rather unpleasant character ( I was cast in the Shakespearian role in a school play, loved him ever since)
In act 2 we are introduced to Kevin Burdette and Iestyn Davies, who make a good double act as base and counter tenor.
Before act 3 I will mention the Lepage staging, it varies from the bland to inspired as in the forest, to rather strange in act 3. The booklet explains his concept, which is themed. It is definitely needed.
Act three gives the 4 main protagonists their opportunity, Toby Spence, Christopher Feigum, John De Carlo and William Burden are all well cast. Without going into detail, I did find the last act most sbsorbing, and as the story unfolds I realise that the music is so complimentary to the plot that I Have hardly noticed it.
There are some interesting extras on disc, they do help in the enjoyment of the performance, worth watching first.
The booklet too is informative and reasonably comprehensive.
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Ades: The Tempest [DVD] [2014]
Ades: The Tempest [DVD] [2014] by Robert Lepage (DVD - 2013)
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