Monday, 26 November 2012

The Met & The Tempest: A successful collaboration?

                                                          Thomas Adés
                                                         The Tempest

On the 10th of November I attended the Met's simulcast. Although I am certainly a fan of the concept of the live telecasting of Opera's, the opera itself wasn't as successful as I had hoped. Well, the main problem I had with ‘The Tempest’ was the libretto; it was so unfortunate that the librettist, Meredith Oakes failed to even inject a slight bit of Shakespearean language into the work. What translated was more of a description, plain and un-imaginative. What really got on my nerves was the cringe- worthy rhyming scheme.  Although I understand that they were attempting to appeal to the masses by modernising one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, the dumbed-down version of the text seemed simply insulting. As the Met usually favour generic representations of Operatic productions, we can hardly be surprised that it was a safe and literal translation of the play (both in the production and the libretto). The music however was the highlight of the whole collaboration. A few leitmotifs would have certainly contributed in helping us to understand the characters, but lack of leitmotif was probably intentional as the concept was; the evolution of self-hood (maturity, acceptance, etc.).

Although Miranda played the female lead, she seemed more like a token character at times. To me she was portrayed in a really clichéd manner (lamenting the shipwreck in act 1, love duet, and then almost morphing into one entity (with Ferdinand) from the second act onward). Although Adés and Lepage discussed their attempts to highlight her personal development, they just glossed over her role making her seem like a passive character. It would have been interesting to have made more reference to Sycorax within the libretto, although they allude to this previously dominating force of the island it failed to develop further. Initially Ariel seemed like the main female character, however the coloratura soprano role was a bit ambiguously portrayed/ explained  as,  in ‘The Tempest’,  Ariel is traditionally a male character, also in the met ‘programme’ they constantly refer to Ariel as male ('He [Prospero] begs Ariel to stay with him, but he [Ariel] flies away to freedom').

There was definitely an element of showmanship in the staging; however I had hoped that they would take more liberties with the staging (since the libretto was pretty standard and unimaginative). It did feel at times that there was a bit of confusion as to how the staging would transcribe to the cinema audience (visible morph-suited crew members). They could have gone further with the production, it seemed fairly banal and true-to-form (you could even make out the re-use of props from ‘The Enchanted Island’ (used in the exact same manner)).

Prospero was a pretty substantial character to portray within the work, and therefore a strong female lead wasn’t entirely needed, however with Miranda being this whole passive, fairly un-opinionated character I kind of craved an alternative female character to counteract the naïve nature of Miranda. A few days after we attended the production, a film version of the play was on the Arts channel, in this version Prospero was played by Helen Mirren, although I only caught the last few scenes, this really did change the feel of the work. This portrayal, kind of substantiated (for me) the need for a dominant female force to be incorporated into the work.

Oke’s portrayal of Caliban was most definitely on the button, exceptional singing and really poignant interpretation of this (traditionally perceived) dysfunctional character! The interview with Shrader, Leonard, etc. was one of my favourite parts, essentially because I found it so hilarious! It’s such a bizarre concept to interview the performers right when they come off stage, panting from exhaustion, it was without a doubt an awkward situation, but it is interesting to see their interpretation of the work and the performance (even if their views are somewhat censored).

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