Opera Reviews
27 January 2023
Untitled Document

Thomas Adès' The Tempest takes La Scala by storm

by Silvia Luraghi

Adès: The Tempest
Teatro alla Scala, Milan
5 November 2022

Ensemble

As the final title of its 2021-22 season, Milan’s Teatro alla Scala presented the Italian premiere of Thomas Adès’ 2004 opera The Tempest. The Robert Lepage production (here revived by Gregory Fortner), premiered at Opéra de Québec and was later seen at the Met and the Vienna State Opera. It seemed especially appropriate for the local audience, as it stages the first act on the stage of La Scala: accordingly, the curtain rises and shows the circles of boxes with their red velvet and golden ornamentations.

The Canadian director, a Québec native, explained in an interview that Shakespeare’s play was written in 1608, which was also the year in which the city of Québec was founded. He intended to set Prospero’s dwelling on the virgin shores of 17th century Canada, where Prospero created a home for himself, remindful of his original hometown, Milan. In the second act, the victims of the shipwreck appear in an open air setting in 18th century costumes. The  theater appears again in the second part of the third act, when Prospero gives up his magic powers becoming reconciled with the courtesans looking from the boxes.

Adès’ vocal scores is extremely diverse, ranging from lyrical lines, especially in the singing of Miranda and Fernando, to some declamato in Prospero’s arias, to the super-high coloratura of Ariel’s parts. Meredith Oakes’ libretto is, so to speak, a reduction of Shakespeare’s play, and highlights only some of the sides of the multifaceted characters: this is especially true for Prospero, whose rancorous side is brought to the fore.

The vocal cast was the best one could expect, led by baritone Leigh Melrose, a magnetic Prospero, displaying an impressively voluminous and perfectly controlled, darkly colored voice. Equally successful was the performance of soprano Audrey Luna, who mastered apparently effortlessly Ariel’s killing tessitura and also showed amazing athletic skills. Also very compelling was tenor Frédéric Antoun as Caliban, who portrayed a not so naive ‘savage’, well conscious of the wrongs he’s suffering from Prospero.

Of the remainder of the cast I especially liked soprano Isabel Leonard, a passionate yet innocent Miranda. At her side, tenor Josh Lovell displayed a handsomely colored ringing voice. Tenor Toby Spence was a very musical Alonso, King of Naples, as was tenor Robert Murray, a tricky Antonio, Prospero’s traitor brother. Bass Kevin Burdette and countertenor Owen Willetts as Stefano and Trinculo were appropriately amusing.

In the pit, the composer himself led the orchestra of Teatro alla Scala, which reacted promptly and enthusiastically to his direction, producing a perfectly tuned sound, as if the score was a regular part of their repertoire.

The house was full, showing that there is no lack of interest for new works. At opening night, the performance was very successful, with a storm of applause for everyone.

Text © Silvia Luraghi
Photo Brescia e Amisano © Teatro alla Scala
 
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