‘Tempest’ to make landfall

Acrobat Jaime Verazin performs as Ariel a scene from Act I of Thomas Adès’ “The Tempest” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Acrobat Jaime Verazin performs as Ariel a scene from Act I of Thomas Adès’ “The Tempest” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Location, location, location.

From a sandy island to a fanciful opera house, “The Tempest” has been set in many locations.

Thomas Adès’s new opera based on Shakespeare’s last play had its American premiere in 2006 in Santa Fe. Set designer Paul Brown created a huge mound of curry-colored sand surrounded by water. In one of the most astonishing entrances in the history of opera, victims of the opening shipwreck crawled out of an underground water chamber and crawled onto the sand. Dazed and dripping wet, the modern-dress survivors sang of bewilderment and wonder.

In the Metropolitan Opera live simulcast Saturday at Fort Lewis College, a very different production will unfold. Prospero, the exiled former Duke of Milan, meditates on revenge and the transience of life. His island exile seeds another illusion, a Baroque fantasy.

Designed by Jasmine Catudal in collaboration with Director Robert Lepage, it is Prospero’s imagination that creates a stylized natural world and La Scala, Milan’s famous opera house, La Scala, after all, was the crown jewel of his kingdom before he was dispossessed by his brother, Antonio.

When Prospero learns of a ship carrying courtiers from Naples and Milan, he conjures a ferocious storm to bring them to his island. The Met production will vary dramatically from Santa Fe.

Purists also need to know this is not strict Shakespearean language simply set to music. Leave that to Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Here the young British composer chose librettist Meredith Oakes to retain the Tempest plot but simplify the language. In effect, Oakes translated Shakespeare into modern rhymed couplets. Sung in English, of course, it is highly accessible.

The music is lush and layered, drawing inspiration from many sources, shifting tempi and mood as fluidly as waves undulating toward shore.

Expect to see that fantasy on stage as well. Lepage and Catudal worked with the illusion-specialists, Ex Machina, the same wizards who created The Machine, the gigantic stage mechanism for the Met’s recent Ring Cycle.

Like the play, Opera Tempest is an ensemble work with a large cast and chorus. Baritone Simon Keenlyside sings Prospero, a role written for him. Isabel Leonard and Alek Schrader portray Miranda and Ferdinand, the young lovers who inadvertently create the first disruption in Prospero’s magical powers.

Soprano Audrey Luna may garner the most press for her performance as Ariel. The spirit’s high, otherworldly arias climb into vocal stratosphere, many intervals above the proverbial high C. Ariel’s yearning, frustration, even frenzy are conveyed by singing what seems beyond human possibility. Tenor Alan Oke sings Caliban, a role conventionally written for a bass. His lyrical evocation of island “sounds and sweet airs” conveys a different kind of poignancy.

For those who remember the movie “Shakespeare in Love,” with its screenplay by Tom Stoppard, the film ends with its Miranda character (Gwyneth Paltrow) shipwrecked on the coastline of New America. It was another way of reinventing Shakespeare’s “Tempest.”

Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.

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