Programme booklet »The Tempest«

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Source The Tempest, by William Shakespeare


3 flutes (2nd & 3rd doubling piccolo) 3 oboes (3rd doubling cor anglais) 3 clarinets (3rd doubling bass clarinet) 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon) 4 horns / 3 trumpets 3 trombones (3rd doubling bass trombone) tuba / percussion / piano / harp violin I / violin II / viola / cello / double bass

WORLD PREMIÈRE 10 FEB 2004 Royal Opera House Covent Garden, London PREMIÈRE AT THE HOUSE ON THE RING 14 JUN 2015 DURATION

2 H 45 M



SYNOPSIS BACKGROUND Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, was overthrown by his brother Antonio, who – assisted by the King of Naples – then set him adrift at sea, in a boat with his little daughter Miranda. Prospero and the girl owe their survival to Gonzalo, the King’s advisor. Out of compassion for the exiles, Gonzalo had stocked the boat with sufficient food and Prospero’s books. Presumed dead by all, Prospero and Miranda finally found refuge on an unknown island, which Prospero subjugated with the use of magic.

ACT 1 About 12 years later Just off Prospero’s island, a ship runs into a sudden, severe storm and capsizes; the crew and passengers, among them Antonio, the King of Naples and Gonzalo, miraculously reach the shore safely. Miranda suspects that her father used his magic powers to raise the tempest and shows great concern and compassion for the occupants of the ship. Prospero reassures her: none of the survivors would come to harm. She cannot remember her early childhood, and so he tells her for the first time about Milan, her early life, and the intrigues of his enemies. Deeply saddened by what she has heard, Miranda falls asleep. Prospero summons Ariel, the spirit who serves him, and commands her to watch over the life and well-being of the survivors. Now Caliban approaches Prospero; he is the son of the witch Sycorax, who used to own the island. Caliban accuses Prospero of ingratitude and makes it clear that he would like to take Miranda as his wife and the future mother of his offspring. Filled with disgust, Prospero rejects Caliban and threatens him.

Previous pages: SCENE



In the meantime, the King’s son, Ferdinand, who was separated from his fellow travellers but has also reached the safety of the island, comes upon Miranda. Against the will of Prospero, the two young people fall in love. Blinded by his desire for revenge, Prospero sees Ferdinand only as the son of his enemy, and for the first time in her life Miranda goes against her father’s wishes.

ACT 2 The shipwreck survivors are amazed at the island and their rescue. Only the King worries about his son Ferdinand, who is nowhere to be found. Attempts to console the King fail, particularly because the invisible Ariel skilfully stirs up an argument between Antonio and Sebastian, and then between Antonio and the courtiers. When Caliban joins the survivors for the purpose of inciting them against Prospero, they mock him and give him brandy, which makes him drunk. The party decides to go looking for Ferdinand, and only Stefano and Trinculo follow Caliban. Prospero eventually realises that he cannot dispel the mutual love between Ferdinand and Miranda, and that he has lost his power over his own daughter.



ACT 3 Caliban, Stefano and Trinculo – all three drunk – set out to find Prospero with the intent of killing him. Stefano and Caliban both dream of ruling the island and of their future together with Miranda. Meanwhile the desperate King, convinced that Ferdinand is dead, appoints his advisor Gonzalo as his successor instead of his brother Sebastian. When the King and his court fall into a deep sleep a short while later, Antonio and Sebastian decide to murder the King and Gonzalo. However, their plan is thwarted by Ariel, who awakens the sleeping courtiers in good time. Ariel then admonishes the King and Antonio for sending Prospero and Miranda to an apparently certain death twelve years earlier. Meanwhile Prospero has come to accept Ferdinand and Miranda’s love; indeed he even asks for Miranda’s forgiveness. Miranda once again expresses her aversion to the murderous Caliban. When Ariel, deeply touched, mentions the grief of the King of Naples and Gonzalo, who are still mourning for Ferdinand, Prospero decides to forgive his enemies and forget the past. When the party wandering on the island appears before him, he restores Ferdinand to his father, renounces his magic arts, and sets the spirits free. In anticipation of the wedding of Ferdinand and Miranda, all leave the island aboard the repaired ship. Only Caliban is left alone on the island.





We are right in the middle of the rehearsal process. Are you one of those people who particularly value this stage of production? ta Certainly, I’ve always enjoyed rehearsals. People go at different speeds, and you also have to take this into account. This means that some people arrive on day one with everything perfect, others need to work towards their characters. My part is to help everyone – both singers and instrumentalists – as much as possible. And I have to achieve this in the time we have available for rehearsals. ol They say you had the idea of doing this opera after suddenly waking up in the middle of the night? ta Yes, I think that’s right. I had an offer from the Royal Opera House Covent Garden to write an opera. I thought about a number of different subjects over a longer period of time, but for various reasons they fell through or subsequently didn’t appeal to me.

ol For instance? ta For example, there was a beautiful libretto by Jean Cocteau which I had the idea of setting to music, but it was not entirely finished. But one day I realised that I really had to find a subject to set to music quickly. And The Tempest was so obvious that I was able to decide for it without really looking at it in any great depth beforehand. This was one of the things you wake up sitting bolt upright in the middle of the night, and the idea is suddenly there. And by the time I’d had the idea, it was too late to turn back. ol Your libretto is not original Shakespeare, but a reworking of The Tempest drama by Meredith Oakes. Why didn’t you just use the original? ta There were several reasons for this. Firstly, it would it not make sense for me to set the original Shakespeare text to music. What for? It is a great text, and that is sufficient. And secondly, for my music, for my way of writ-



ing an opera, I needed emotional clarity and a geometry of the motives, which is not something you look to Shakespeare for. For example, it is not actually clear why Prospero acts the way he does in the play. What I wanted was a way to make that geometry clear enough in the music so that it would reach out to the audience. So that the whole thing would be moving. And this was where Meredith Oakes was my secret weapon. ol To what extent is the libretto by Meredith Oakes a translation, or an adaptation? ta She has created a kind of translation and developed a style that is all her own. We are talking here about different levels of time. In the piece we find ourselves in a pre-Shakespearean period – it is about the Dukes of Milan in 14th-century Naples, a kind of mythical time. On the other hand, the English which Shakespeare uses dates from the 16th century, but describes the 14th century. And Meredith Oakes is able to evoke the English of both periods. At the same time, however, she does not stumble into the pitfall of historical language. ol What was it like working with Meredith Oakes? Was it perhaps a situation similar to Ri­chard Strauss and Hugo von Hof­ mannsthal – a sort of struggle to achieve a result? ta ...And many, many letters? (laughs) ol ...and: please write me another five verses? ta It was an absolutely fantastic collaboration. Meredith was very helpful: she is a brilliant librettist and playwright. Whenever I was unable to find a musical expression and the way forward for the music was unclear to me, she would say: “give me a minute, I must

have done something wrong.” And then she’d come up with a solution. Meredith simply understood what it was I needed to compose. So she didn’t simply “translate” the text, but created a completely different structure. So the result is quite different from Shakespeare in parts, and then again it is always close to Shakespeare. The text evokes Shakespeare. Incidentally, it was not many letters we wrote to one another, but faxes, interestingly enough, because we already had e-mail back in 2003. ol To what extent did the new structure result in the addition of new scenes? ta I decided I wanted a chorus – the entire court. This also included the women, although Shakespeare’s play actually only features a single woman: the only one, of course, is Miranda. And I wanted Caliban to encounter the entire court. The comic role in which Shakespeare places him can work in the theatre, but I wanted more in the opera: I wanted to rescue him from this role. When he says: “friends, don’t fear!”, then I, in my opinion there needs to be more. This needs to be said in front of a chorus. So we had to invent these scenes. ol To what extent were other musi­ cal adaptations of Tempest rele­ vant to you? ta I have the feeling that I am very far from being the first composer to be obsessed with The Tempest, and I’m also far from the first to make it into an opera. I don’t know any of the other operas. I know a couple of arias by Henry Purcell a little, and the beautiful music that Michael Tippett wrote. But this is not actually a Tempest opera, but is from his Knot Garden. Well, and, of course, I know that Ludwig van Beethoven, for example, loved



Shakes­peare’s Tempest and was very seriously considering it. This complex background story around Prospero, where he will have wondered how he could accomplish this. But he didn’t have Meredith, you see... (laughs). ol In The Tempest you also make use of Baroque forms. ta Yes, what fascinated me was the court music, and I wanted to create something that was related to the Baroque traditions of opera. From beginning to end, Tempest is a piece full of magic, and there is an incredible range of colours in the text. But I wanted to underscore this not instrumentally, but in a Baroque manner. Because the storm isn’t a real storm, it’s a geometric storm, like one planned by scientists. I think magic is more effective if it does not always occur musically every single time somebody mentions it. I didn’t want to hide behind any effects. ol You are not just a composer, but also a pianist and conduc­ tor. Does your knowledge of the practical aspects make compos­ ing more difficult? Because you know the limits? ta I very often have the following experience. The conductor says to the composer in me: “do you know that what you have composed is really difficult?” And he wishes that the composer had made it a little simpler. But I’m afraid the composer takes precedence! Apart from me as a conductor, ask anyone in the cast, instrumentalists or singers: I have not made the opera too easy... ol Whilst you were writing, did you ever ask singers whether what you had composed was singable? ta No, I just wrote it. Many of the roles use the full extremes of the voice.

But I think if you do too much asking, you then end up with something a little bit bland. Actually, at first there were voices in the cast that said “This is much too hard!” But by the revival they were already more comfortable with it. I think people get used to extreme demands. In the case of Ariel, I didn’t know whether there would be anyone capable of singing the role. It seemed possible to me, though I was not entirely certain about this. So I just wrote it, and left it to the opera house to find someone. And it all worked out really well. ol Before writing something like The Tempest, did you have a kind of theory of opera which you then develop in practice? ta No, we don’t work that way in England. (laughs) Opera is there to reach, or mine, the depths of human emotions. I think that it can get deeper than any other art form. I don’t care about theories – they are of no importance to me. The important thing is: how do you reach people’s deeper emotions? How can I reach my audience? Issues of politics and everything else are only of interest in so far as they bring us closer to the emotional reality of the piece. Of course, you need to have the right tools in order to practise your craft. ol Are the tools used for composing an opera any different than for a symphony? A lot can be seen on the operatic stage which does not have to be expressed musically. ta Basically they are exactly the same tools. They are simply used a bit differently in opera. Opera is like a public sculpture. It is a sculpture, under particular circumstances: it will be exposed to the wind and the rain, and can be experienced by anyone. So you have to communicate differently. It doesn’t have



to be in a simple way, not patronising, but different. ol When you look back at the work today, ten years later... ta ...then it’s much easier for me. I know the mood of the scenes better, how fast they should go, and so on. After I’d finished composing the work, I knew for example, that this or that passage was based on a Baroque dance. And then during the first rehearsals, someone would ask me “shouldn’t this be slower”? And I’d answer “no, no, because it is based on a bourée.” I then realised that they were absolutely right. The whole end of the opera was quite fast in my head. Then this gradually changed. Other things are still very challenging. ol Once you’d finished composing the work, was it finally com­ pleted for you? Or did you still have at the back of your mind the possibility of revising it at a later date? ta There were a few details of the opera where I thought I could make this much, much easier. Not only with

respect to rhythm, but also to the orchestration. But then a little part of me thinks “leave it in, leave it”! These things are the generative aspects of the work, its features, characteristics. And I really don’t want something that’s bland and featureless. And so I think that’s very unlikely. I have laboured very hard over this piece and I am quite satisfied with it. And I can feel when a piece is finished. I think it would be a mistake to start reopening and revising it. ol Is there anything you’d like to communicate to your audience through your Tempest? A kind of message, perhaps? ta I would put it differently: I would like people who experience The Tempest to be moved after a performance. That’s something not easily put into words. But at the same time, you can be transformed and returned to yourself, in a manner of speaking. Or, to put it more simply: ideally The Tempest should be a voyage, an emotional experience. If I can achieve that, I am satisfied. This interview was conducted in 2015.





You have already directed Shake­­ speare’s Tempest more than half a dozen times. What is it that you find so fascinating about this work? rl Shake­speare’s last, exceptionally rich play is both a legacy and a vision: a look at a world in which people sailed across the sea in ships, exploring America and the world of indigenous peoples. Of course Miranda’s much-quoted “brave new world” refers first and foremost to the action of the play, but in a broader sense it also refers to this world beyond the ocean that was entirely new to Europeans. Amongst other things, Tempest also shows the reflexes, the conflicts, that occur when a culture that prides itself on understanding all the essential issues – as European culture did for many centuries – is suddenly confronted with another civilization with which it is unfamiliar. It experiences a desire to colonize, an urge to acquire, but also a yearning to intermingle and

assimilate. For instance, on an island that originally did not belong to him, Prospero acts on the one hand like a European potentate in the Age of Discovery, whilst on the other he becomes a part of this strange world, adopting as his own the magic of the island. This is why he is dressed like a native in our production. In adopting the attire of the indigenous population, it is as if Prospero also takes on their peculiar strength and power. However, Tempest is also about our acceptance of ageing and dying, and it is about revenge and forgiveness. Miranda ultimately sets out on her own, independent life, and hence her father Prospero is now permitted to grow old and sick: though his mind becomes cloudy, he has passed on his experience, so he can now pass away. To a certain extent, the plot is the process of acquiring this knowledge and arriving at this point. I am fascinated anew every time by all of these, including themes that are still extremely rel-



evant in today’s current political and cultural discussions. al Though Thomas Adès’ Tempest is based on Shakespeare’s play, in terms of content the opera dif­ fers from the drama in several respects... rl There is some abridgement and simplification, and a reduction of the main characters. On the other hand, in the play the entire crew of the ship can only be heard in the background; in the opera Thomas Adès brings them onto the stage, where they sing and take an active part in the story. Similar changes are made very frequently in musical settings of Shakespeare – one need think only of Verdi’s Macbeth. There are only three witches in the play, whereas in the opera there is a whole chorus of witches. But apart from all that, there are indeed some unexpected turns of events in the opera compared to the drama Tempest. One very good example is Prospero’s attitude to the love between his daughter and Ferdinand. In the play, Prospero brings Ferdinand and Miranda together: the father encourages the love between the two of them. In the opera the situation is completely the opposite. Here the two young people meet by chance – an unfortunate accident from Prospero’s point of view. In the opera, Prospero even tries to prevent this love. However, he does not have the power to do so, because Ferdinand and Miranda’s love is stronger than Prospero’s magic. I find this wonderful reinterpretation makes the characters in the opera more human, psychologically more credible, even. Even more exciting, because Prospero is caught up in a contradiction that makes him more colourful, more interesting as a person. The process of separation from the daughter is

more marked, the father’s involuntary letting-go more compelling. You can see the two opposing forces at work in Prospero’s breast: on the one hand his love for Miranda, and at the same time his aversion to her beloved Ferdinand, his son-in-law in spe. Quite apart from this, today we can no longer write a contemporary libretto in which a father chooses a husband for his daughter. al You have turned Prospero into a 19th century impresario in your production. What were your rea­ sons for doing so? rl Now, that depends on what you mean by impresario. I was both interested in and fascinated by the simultaneous occurrence of several different events as the starting point of my reflections. Shakespeare wrote his original Tempest play in 1608, just a year after the première of Monteverdi’s Orfeo, a first milestone in the then still new genre of opera. The traditional Japanese Kabuki theatre was invented at the same time, and last, but not least, in 1608 Québec City was founded on the site of an Iroquoian village. And it is precisely in Québec City that we intended to show this production of Tempest for the first time – and where we have also set it. So this was all based on the extremely intriguing idea of also bringing together these different simultaneous historical events in our production at a place of illusion: the idea of the opera, the theatre, the culture of the native inhabitants. Hence Prospero is the European stranded in America, Caliban stands for the indigenous population, and the opera house which Prospero builds on the island as his private world symbolises opera, theatre itself, which in Shakespeare always represents a reflection of the real world – let us not for-



get that Shakespeare’s theatre bore the name “Globe.” Thereafter it was only a small step to move to Milan’s La Scala opera house: which opera house should Prospero, the overthrown Duke of Milan, recreate, if not the one in his own home town? al So Prospero’s magic tricks in this production are not just real magic but also theatre magic? rl Yes, that’s the way I see it. The replica of La Scala built by Prospero is his magic toolbox. al In the first act of this production one looks into the auditorium, in the second onto the stage, and in the third one has a sort of cross-section of the auditorium and the stage. Why this change of stage set from one act to the next? rl It was interesting to create a world with people who, on the one hand, are of course the victims of Prospero’s revenge – real actors, in other words – and on the other who also appear as onlookers of this magic world. This makes them seem like an echo of the actual viewers in the real auditorium: at one point again these appear to be scenes in the jungle of a hyperrealistic piece, then the lighting changes and it becomes clear that everything is only made of papier-mâché – it is just Prospero’s theatre world. This makes it possible to offer the audience both viewpoints alternately. al When you are developing a pro­ duction, do you have several dif­ ferent approaches or ideas ini­ tially which you follow up, only selecting the best of them at the end? rl When you have been working on a piece for several years, reflecting on

it, organising workshops, trying out various different things, building prototypes of the stage set, and so on, the result proffers itself at the end of this creative, intuitive development process – it comes to you, in other words. You have to be patient, however! As a director I am like the captain who sets sail with his ships in order to discover a new continent. A Christopher Columbus, in a manner of speaking (laughs). At the start of the journey, I do not know what the continent will look like, but I do know that it’s there. Under certain circumstances it may be even more beautiful, more interesting, richer than we had expected or hoped. al As in the case of Tempest, your productions are developed in cooperation with Ex Machina. How does this collaboration function in practice? Do you specify the general direction, and then leave everyone in the company to work for them­ selves? rl No, we work together all the time during the development process. If you ask me to direct a production, I always say: “you’ll also have to hire Ex Machina, as you can only have me together with my company.” When we are preparing a production with Ex Machina, we use a method that does not fit the classical system of large repertory houses like the Wiener Staats­ oper, the New York Met, La Scala, the Paris Opera, the Royal Opera House in London, because we always develop a specific production, the costumes, the lighting, the necessary stage technology over a period of several years. This can easily be done in Quebec, where everything is cheaper and structures are less complicated. Of course, the singers



cannot be involved all the time. During this process they are replaced by acrobats and extras with whom we look for solutions, which, of course, must take into account the fact that the singers will primarily have to produce sounds. And then, when the regular six-week rehearsal period before a première at the respective theatre begins, we don’t need to waste any time trying things out, selecting, testing, but can already present the singers with the possibilities we have prepared. al Some of the singers are differ­ ent from those in the New York production. Does this in any way affect what you show? rl Of course, since I always try to respond to the singers’ personalities. The energy of a singer introduces distinctive new elements into a production. We try not to suppress these, but rather ask ourselves how these aspects can be incorporated into the existing system of the production, enhancing the whole. Here’s just one example: as a person, the singer of Miranda here at the Wiener Staatsoper is a fundamentally different character from the person who played the role at the Met. The performer at the Met was very romantic, naive – Stephanie Houtzeel, on the other hand, is very active, more of a sort of “impulsive child.” And as Miranda in the opera is also an impulsive child any­way, I encourage Stephanie Houtzeel: “don’t try to be naive; you have to draw on the talents you have been endowed with.” al Was the music of Thomas Adès in any way a source of inspira­ tion for your production? rl Caliban puts his finger on it when he says: “the island is made up of music and sounds.” Sounds don’t have to mean

musical tones: they can also mean the reproduction of certain noises produced in the theatre, on the stage and behind it. When the winches operate, when the stage machinery works, the stage engineering – for us these are all elements of Prospero’s magic. And apart from the neo-baroque elements, these “theatre noises” can also be heard in the music of Thomas Adès. Besides, much of the way our characters appear, they way they move, interact with one another, and so on is determined by the subtext under­tone of the music. In a nutshell: the score of Tempest influenced and shaped the characters and the entire stage setting of this production. al The music of the individual char­ acters in Adès’ Tempest is very different. Based on the compo­ sition, have you developed a spe­ cific repertoire of movements and responses, facial expres­ sions, and so on, for each of the individual protagonists? rl You can see this particularly clearly in Ariel. She literally has a whole vocabulary of gestures and movements that necessitates a great deal of athletic and acrobatic effort on the part of the performer. However, this gestic vocabulary is never deployed redundantly: it doesn’t duplicate the music, but reveals an additional energy of the character. This in turn underpins the dynamics in the music at an additional level. al So is Ariel a real spirit? rl Ariel is always depicted as a local creature. But she is Prospero’s spirit, mind, intention, his thoughts, his self-reflections. Many characters in Shakespeare have an counterpart associated with them – Romeo has Benvolio, for instance – so as to practise self-reflection. In the case of Prospero – a man



obliged to seek refuge on an unknown island together with his daughter far away from home – there is no Benvolio, so Shakespeare invented Ariel. In other words, for me Ariel is the foil for Prospero’s soliloquies. al If you were a singer, which role would you like to take in Adès’ Tempest?

rl Ferdinand, for musical reasons, to be sure. From a singer’s point of view, I consider this role the most interesting in the entire piece. Especially in the scenes with Miranda, we hear many beautiful echoes of the baroque – English baroque – and then the music plummets in a truly malicious manner. In my opinion, all the music of Tempest is most clearly reflected in the role of Ferdinand. This interview was conducted in 2015.




RICH AND STRANGE: THOMAS ADÈS’ TEMPEST I first heard the music of Thomas Adès on a gloomy spring day in Aldeburgh, England, in 1995. The composer was then twenty-four – a nervously confident youth who spoke in rumbling bass tones, like a very English Ving Rhames. The piece on display was Living Toys, which featured the sort of everywhere-scurrying, chaos-theory music that composers under the influence of György Ligeti were writing at the time. But I heard something else, too – an articulate melancholy, which gathered itself into brief, sobbing pleas. Through a maze of styles and moods, the work took listeners far into a private world. Here was a composer who seemed capable of anything. In the years that followed, Adès became famous, notorious, a bit overexposed – problems American composers only wish they had. His first opera, Powder Her Face, was celebrated not so

much for its razor-sharp characterisations as for its onstage blow job. His first big symphonic piece, Asyla, had a much discussed, much imitated scherzo movement depicting a druggy night at a London club. In 1999, he dumbfounded a New York Philharmonic audience with a monumentally grim cantata entitled America: A Prophecy, which contained the lines “Your cities will fall ... It is foretold / Prepare.” All the focus on the outré features of Adès’ works disguised the fact that they were tied together with fantastically ornate thematic designs, as if the composer were intent on dressing animal energies in impeccable clothes. Then came a period in which the new star of English music seemed uncertain of his direction. He had a commission from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and after stalling on one project he decided on short notice



to tackle another: Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Deadlines loomed, the score was not ready. A no longer worshipful British press hinted that a fiasco might be in the offing. There were reports that singers were complaining about the difficulty of their parts. Articles on the eve of the première characterised Adès as a purveyor of “facile cleverness” and “shallow sophistication” who had tried to do “too much too soon.”

How much is too soon? To adapt Tom Lehrer’s immortal line, when Schubert was Adès’ age he had been dead for a year. The Tempest is the opposite of a disappointment; it is a masterpiece of airy beauty and eerie power. As if on schedule, Adès, at thirty-two, is now the major artist that his earliest works promised he would become. Excerpt from an article from The New Yorker, published in March 2004.


Next pages: SCENE


RECONCILED AND HEALED AT LAST When William Shakespeare penned The Tempest at the beginning of the 17th century, he conceived it as an acoustic experience as much as a verbal one. Often sparse in his stage directions, Shakespeare repeatedly asks for “solemn and strange music.” Caliban further testifies that “the isle” on which Prospero unleashes his magic “is full of noises.” So, of all Shakespeare’s plays, it was only natural that The Tempest would invite the interest of countless composers over its 400-year history. There have been many orchestral works based on the play but, despite oper­ atic attempts by Halévy, Fibich, Martin, Tippett and Berio, only Thomas Adès has come close to grappling with the richness and strangeness of this great metatheatrical text. If the play concerns the clout of the theatre – manifest in Shakespeare’s reference to his playhouse in “the great globe itself” – Adès and his librettist Meredith Oakes focus on music’s inimitable power to heal.

Much was expected of Adès when a commission for a new opera arrived at the beginning of the new millennium. Pole-vaulting more senior and established figures on the British contemporary music scene, the Royal Opera House’s invitation was proof of Adès’ already significant achievements. Having been educated at the Guildhall and Cambridge – where he studied with Alexander Goehr and Robin Holloway – Adès was soon writing pieces for Simon Rattle in Birmingham (and then in Berlin), before launching his raucous chamber opera Powder Her Face in 1995. EMI recording contracts and the directorship of both Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the Aldeburgh Festival followed. But would choosing Shakespeare for his second opera prove to be a bridge too far? In working with Oakes, an Australian-born playwright, Adès deliberately distanced his adaptation from the original text. This was not to be a direct conversion of Shakespeare to the oper­



atic stage. Rather, taking Verdi and Boito’s radical approach with Otello and Falstaff as a model, Oakes and Adès fashioned a new three-act structure from Shakespeare’s five-act play. Oakes preserves much of the original magic, but smashes together the play’s various personalities. Reported action becomes action proper and the central dispute between Naples and Milan plays out in a series of vignettes, dialogues and confrontations. Such a dicho­tomy can be heard in the very text the characters sing, where often-simple couplets underline conflict and resolution alike. The focus of the opera’s struggle is, of course, Prospero. The rightful Duke of Milan, his brother Antonio exiled him and his daughter Miranda to an island, all with the support of the King of Naples. Having heard that Antonio and the King’s court are passing by in a ship, Prospero conjures a tempest to shipwreck them all. The overture, completed shortly before the opera’s premiere in February 2004, shows Prospero at the height of his meteorological powers. At first we hear whispered string harmonics – music of heavenly stasis. But that noise is soon blurred by a semitone step in both directions and a jarring sequence of chords, starting in the depths of the orchestra, releases a musical storm. Swinging between microscopic dynamics and braying triple fortes, the music’s knotty harmonies are based around that jarring semitone. Rhythmically unstable, lacerated by a metal sheet and an orchestral whip, these wild deviations in tone become the hallmark of Prospero’s world. If in Shakespeare, he is a source of poetry and imagination, in the opera – as with Wagner’s Wotan –

Prospero is cause for darkness and despair. Gifted the power of Neptune, Prospero influences the music of those around him. One of Adès’ most inspired creations is the role of Ariel. His stratospheric vocal part often echoes Prospero’s ranting (albeit a couple of octaves higher), but there is conflict here too. Having been released from one curse by Prospero, Ariel is now enslaved to him instead. Like Caliban – who claims the island as his own – Ariel communicates the real sonic spirit of the island. Ariel is often more sound than word, while Caliban, in one of the most ravishing passages in the opera, tells us that “the island’s full of noises.” Their home should be a sonic paradise, of which Caliban would gladly be king. Prospero’s ire clearly does not belong. In contrast to the island’s inhabitants – ferocious as Prospero, magical as Caliban and Ariel – the exiled court is more structured by far. Echoes of the French baroque, dance rhythms and canonical structures hint at the hierarchies Prospero hoped to drown in the storm. Poles away from those ranting monologues, the King of Naples is a musically muted figure. His sea­ drenched court sings in short stymied bursts of harmony, while individuals, such as the bitter wrangling Antonio and Sebastian, or the comic Trinculo and his drunken mate Stefano, mirror the disparate relationships of Prospero’s exiled assembly. Only Gonzalo extends a dramatic and musical olive branch, though his optimism is continually challenged by the desperate situation in which he and his fellow travellers find themselves. Bridging the gap between the island and the court is the burgeoning relationship of Ferdinand and Miran-



da. Representing the two factions, they beautifully mirror each other. After Ariel’s vertiginous “Five fathoms deep”, Ferdinand’s response sounds particularly lyrical, although he has a more heroic side (recalling Prospero’s music). Miranda, on the other hand, is wonderfully single-minded. She will not capitulate to her father’s stentorian tones. Indeed, it is Miranda who appears to calm the storm as the curtain rises. Polyphony gives way to homophony and, in Ferdinand, Miranda finds her musical match. The couple’s ability to connect the opera’s political, dramatic and musical poles – what Prospero calls “A stronger power than mine” – spurs its resolution. But if Miranda and Ferdinand’s act 2 love duet shows two characters aligned – singing in unison at “My lover smiling blessed asylum” – the opening scenes of the third act are as violent as the storm with which the opera began. Swinging between ppp and fff dynamics, pinpointing that oppressive semitone or leaping across vast gulfs with ungainly intervals, the court and Prospero finally duke it out. Caliban’s auditory haven becomes a distant memory as sliding trombones, cellos, double basses and wild upsurging dissonances describe “hell’s fury.” Confronted once more by his daughter’s love for Ferdinand, however, Prospero is rendered defenceless and sets in motion his final charm: to resolve the situation and free Ariel.

Liberated, Ariel blesses the couple – “Children born of mortal strife May you live a happy life” – the notes of which provide the theme for an ensuing passacaglia. This 17th century courtly form, associated with both Spain and Italy, is a series of variations perched over a fixed bass line pattern. Providing further significance to Ariel’s benediction, Prospero, the King, Gonzalo, Ferdinand and Miranda are “reconciled and healed at last”, journeying from darkness into light. Aggravated dissonances dissolve and – in another change to the original dramaturgy – Caliban and Ariel (rather than Prospero) reinstate the island’s whispered musico-magical state, transfigured in an entirely new key. Stepping away from the shape and language of Shakespeare’s original play could have been seen as running scared of the Bard’s genius. But Adès and Oakes’s textural and structural choices move closer to its message than any of their musical predecessors. Through a network of subtle but instantly recognisable musical ideas – dissonance and consonance, leaping intervals and legato lines, polyphony and homophony – drama and music are at one in The Tempest. The power of the former is reflected brilliantly in the language of the latter. Tipped headlong into an unstable vortex at the beginning of the opera, stasis and beauty are slowly restored and Adès hands Caliban and Ariel the keys to this refashioned musical paradise.




DESPITE DIFFERENCES, VERY CLOSE TO SHAKESPEARE British composer Thomas Adès, born in 1971, is one of the most successful contemporary composers of his generation. His second opera, The Tempest, is one of the most popular and most performed music theatre works of the last twenty years. Adès based his opera on Shakespeare’s eponymous late play. In the course of music history, this play has inspired numerous composers to write music, some of which adhered closely to Shakespeare’s original, while others followed the story only rather loosely. To what extent is Adès’ Tempest different from the original play? We know that the libretto was an intentionally new text written by Meredith Oakes. The first thing we notice is that the cast for the Adès opera is rather smaller than for Shakespeare’s play. The two noblemen Adrian and Francisco are missing, as are the named spirits Iris, Ceres, and Juno, and also the Master of the Ship and the boatswain. On the other hand, the ensemble, in other words the courtiers and the sailors, play a larger role with Adès and Oakes as they form the chorus. In this connection, the director of this production, Robert Lepage, says that Thomas

Adès as it were invited ordinary people onto the stage, where they sing and take an active part in the story. Interestingly enough, Adès deleted the name Alonso from the king’s title: in the opera, he is deliberately mentioned only as the nameless “King of Naples.” When characterising the individuals, there is a clear shift in focus with Prospero: in the opera, he is more human, more prone to error, and therefore perhaps presents a psychologically more understandable character. For Adès, Prospero is so consumed by thoughts of revenge that he can see neither left nor right of himself. Initially, his thirst for revenge would even destroy a happy future for his beloved daughter Miranda. Her affection for Ferdinand cannot, indeed may not be allowed, because Ferdinand is the son of his enemy, the King of Naples, who is largely to blame for Prospero’s exile on the island. But fortunately for both of them, Prospero’s magical powers are no match for the pure love of the young couple, and later the aged father is transformed through insight, and he renounces revenge. By contrast, Shakespeare’s Prospero exhibits something superhuman, almost omniscient;




he is the one who has control of the game and strategically guides things to a happy outcome. In terms of form, the five-act Shakespeare play has been reduced to a three-act opera, but despite several differences and cuts, the story is essentially identical, as the following overview shows.

SHAKESPEARE ACT 1 SCENE 1 The King’s ship runs aground in a tempest. Key players such as the King, Gonzalo, Antonio, and Sebastian, are introduced. SCENE 2 Miranda shows compassion for the shipwrecked passengers and crew. Prospero assures her that no harm has come to any of them. He tells her of their past in Milan, of how he was betrayed, and how they came to be on the island. Prospero converses with Ariel, who reports amongst other things that he has carried out Prospero’s command and brought everyone to the island. Ariel asks to be freed. Prospero reminds him that he rescued him from the witch Sycorax, who had trapped him in a pine. Conversation between Prospero and Caliban revealing that Prospero raised Caliban, in return for which Caliban taught Prospero the art of magic. The relationship between the two of them changed when Caliban tried to rape Miranda. Ariel lures Ferdinand with a song about his drowned father. Ferdinand meets Miranda and Prospero. To Prospero’s great joy, Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love; nevertheless, Prospero still assumes a harsh exterior towards Ferdinand.

ACT 2 SCENE 1 Gonzalo tries to cheer the King and describes how he would rule the island: no one would be poor or rich, there would be no contracts and no work. The King regrets having arranged his daughter‘s marriage in Africa, since it was on the return journey that the tempest engulfed the ship. When everyone except Antonio and Sebastian falls asleep, the two of them decide to kill the King and Gonzalo. Ariel awakens everyone to prevent the assassinations from taking place. SCENE 2 Stefano and Trinculo encounter Caliban, whom they hold for a fool and give him liquor. Caliban offers them his services. ACT 3 SCENE 1 With great delight, Prospero watches from a distance as Miranda and Ferdinand declare their love for each other, and even promise to marry. SCENE 2 Caliban attempts to incite Stefano and Trinculo to rise up against Prospero. The invisible Ariel interrupts the three of them and instigates a quarrel between Trinculo and Stefano. SCENE 3 Various spirits lead the weary King and his entourage to a table laid with a lavish feast, but a short while later Ariel causes it to disappear again. Ariel accuses the King and Antonio of having exiled Prospero and set him adrift at sea. The King believes the disappearance of his son Ferdinand is his punishment.



ACT 4 SCENE 1 Prospero drops his mask and lets Ferdinand see his joy about the love match between him and Miranda; however he warns him against having sex with her before they are married. Various spirits bless the union of the two young people. When Caliban, Trinculo and Stefano arrive to kill Prospero, they are met by spirits in the guise of dogs and are chased across the island.

SCENE 3 Conversation between Prospero and Ariel. Ariel tells him about the shipwreck, and Prospero commands her to bring everyone safely to the island. SCENE 4 Conversation between Prospero and Caliban. Caliban declares that he has treated Prospero with great generosity, but Prospero declares this to be a lie. Prospero rejects Caliban’s insinuation of a relationship with Miranda and threatens him.

ACT 5 SCENE 1 Ariel reports on the distraction and sorrowing of the shipwrecked passengers and shows his concern, even though he is only a spirit. Prospero decides to forgive his enemies, forswears his magic, reveals himself to his past enemies, and leads Ferdinand and Miranda as a couple to the now happy King. They decide to leave the island in the ship, made seaworthy again, and Prospero releases Ariel and speaks the epilogue.

ADÈS, OAKES ACT 1 SCENE 1 The King’s ship runs aground in a tempest. The chorus sings of the catastrophe. SCENE 2 Miranda shows compassion for the shipwrecked passengers and crew. Prospero assures her that no harm has come to any of them. He tells her of their past in Milan, of how he was betrayed, and how they came to be on the island. Prospero summons Ariel.

SCENE 5 Ariel has rescued the shipwrecked passengers and healed their injuries. Ariel asks to be freed. Prospero reminds her that he rescued her from the witch Sycorax, who had trapped her in a pine tree. Ariel must now fetch Ferdinand. Ariel lures Ferdinand with a song about his drowned father. SCENE 6 Miranda awakens and sees Ferdinand. The two fall in love. Prospero realises that his influence over Miranda is waning. Prospero goes to Ferdinand and reproaches him for his father’s crime. Miranda defends him. Prospero has Ariel take him to the other shipwrecked passengers. ACT 2 SCENE 1 The courtiers are amazed at the island and the fact that they are unharmed (chorus). Stefano and Trinculo are amazed that they are healthy and tell each other that they were drunk. Prospero observes the King, his brother, Gonzalo, and the others from a distance and instructs Ariel to taunt the stranded group. The King and the others are also amazed that they are




unharmed, their clothes as if freshly laundered and ironed. Only Ferdinand is missing. They try to convince the King that Ferdinand has come ashore at a different location and has also survived. Ariel instigates a quarrel between Antonio and Sebastian, and between Antonio and the courtiers. SCENE 2 Caliban approaches the courtiers, who consider him to be stupid and primitive. Trinculo and Stefano give him brandy, which Caliban drinks with gusto. Caliban tries to incite the shipwrecked group against Prospero. However, no one takes him seriously because he is drunk. The party decides to go in search of Ferdinand, even though the King has lost all hope. SCENE 3 Trinculo, Stefano and Caliban set off to kill Prospero and win back power over the island. Caliban, who in fact wants Miranda for himself, promises her to Stefano. SCENE 4 Ferdinand and Miranda sing of their love. Prospero realises that he now has no more power over his daughter: “My child has conquered me.” ACT 3 SCENE 1 Trinculo, Stefano and Caliban are on their way to find Prospero. Stefano imagines himself as king and Miranda’s husband. SCENE 2 Prospero asks Ariel to tell him what the shipwrecked passengers are doing. The courtiers are searching for Ferdinand. The King decides that Gonzalo should be his successor, rather than his brother Sebastian. All fall asleep, except Antonio and Sebas-

tian, who decide to kill the old King and Gonzalo, so that Sebastian can become King of Naples. Ariel awakens the sleeping group to prevent the assassinations. A feast is set before the courtiers as if by magic. Gonzalo describes how his kingdom would be: no one there will be poor or rich, there will be no weapons, no laws, no crime, and no money. Ariel appears and accuses them of having once set Prospero and Miranda adrift at sea. The King believes that Ferdinand had to die because of his wrongdoing. SCENE 3 Miranda and Ferdinand come to Prospero as a couple. Prospero asks Miranda for her forgiveness and agrees to the union. Caliban appears with Trinculo and Stefano and demands that Prospero be killed; he also indicates that he will be king of the island and will marry Miranda. Miranda declares once again that she has no interest in Caliban. Ariel mentions the grief of Gonzalo and the King, and although she is only a spirit, she empathizes with the sorrowing men. Prospero then resolves to forgive them all and to release the spirits. SCENE 4 Prospero reveals to the assembled company who he is. The King begs his forgiveness. Prospero leads Ferdinand to his father. The union of Ferdinand and Miranda is welcomed with general acclamation. The ship is seaworthy again, and Prospero renounces his magic powers. SCENE 5 Caliban is left alone on the island. Ariel rises up; all that is left of her is her singing.


Next pages: SCENE


WHY DOES PROSPERO BREAK HIS STAFF? Throughout The Tempest Prospero talks of releasing Ariel and giving up his magic. At the end of the play he not only fulfils this promise but removes his magician’s robes, declaring he will now bury his books and break his staff. But why? These are the symbols of his wizardry, and magic has served Prospero well throughout Shakespeare’s last play. First the exiled duke uses it to create the storm that shipwrecks all the men he wishes to fall into his clutches. Then, through the agency of his indentured sprite Ariel, he uses magic to make sure no one drowns and that the survivors end up in three separate groups. This makes it possible for Alonso, King of Naples, to despair that his son is drowned and for Alonso’s brother Sebastian to be left alone with Prospero’s brother Antonio long enough for the rogue to convince him to murder Alsonso and replace him on the throne of Naples. Later Prospero’s magic enables him to conjure up a banquet at which a

terrifying voice accuses all three men – Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian – of their sins, an integral part of the wizard’s long-plotted revenge. Prospero also conjures up a celebratory masque of singing nymphs for Ferdinand and Miranda when another part of his scheme comes to pass, and the two children fall in love. And he uses his magic to punish the drunken conspirators Caliban, Trinculo and Stefano by making them run through a briar patch. Finally Prospero brings all the shipwrecked survivors together into a magic circle where he can reproach and forgive them all before revealing Ferdinand, far from drowned and betrothed to Miranda. Magic has enabled Prospero to achieve a huge amount since the sailing ship of his enemies was first sighted off the shore of this magic island. He has taken all those who plotted against him to task and all (apart from Antonio) have repented. He has regained his dukedom and found an advantageous marriage for his daughter to the future king of Naples.



But before asking why on earth Prospero wants to give up so much power, it’s worth asking with what powers Shakespeare has actually imbued him. In Jacobean England there was still a genuine belief in magic and witchcraft. King James I in particular was convinced that witches existed and in 1599, shortly before his accession to the English throne, he published his a book Daemonologie. This was a refutation of Reginald Scot’s publication Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) in which the author had dismissed magicians and witches as frauds. James by contrast wrote approvingly of hunting out witches whom he called “detestable slaves of the Devil.” He not only refuted “the damnable opinions of Scot’s book” in his monograph but, on coming to the English throne in 1603, ordered that all extant copies of Discoverie should be burned by the public hangman. Magic was still very real in the minds of many people at this time. Shakespeare’s Macbeth, written in 1606, soon after the superstitious James arrived in London, reflects his sovereign’s fear of witches. James, hitherto only King of Scotland, was patron of Shakespeare’s company, The King’s Men, and there is every reason to suppose that Shakespeare wrote this story of an earlier king of Scotland who is led to death and damnation by witches for the specific entertainment of his royal sponsor. But The Tempest, written five years later, reflects a different – less histrionic – view of magic. There are no ghosts, no incantations, no “Double double, toil and trouble” in this play. Prospero belongs to the higher order of magicians – those who are able to command the services of superior beings – a very different group from Macbeth’s witches, who

are in league with Satan and have sacrificed their souls for supernatural power. Like Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus (1604) the witches may seem to be in charge of their necromancy but they will pay a terrible price eventually. The magic is riding them and they will never be able to end this ride. One of the important reasons that Prospero breaks his staff and gives up his magic is because, unlike Faustus and the witches, he can. But the magic that Prospero has achieved through displacing Sycorax, and by his reading and by his adoption of a magician’s robe and staff is only a means to an end. Some recent productions of the play have suggested that the magic is taking its toll of Prospero and he continues with it only until his aims are achieved – and then casts it away in relief. Shakespeare’s text can certainly bear out such an interpretation. After all by the end of the play Prospero has achieved everything he might have hoped for except reconciliation with his surly brother. Another view, emphasised by scholars and directors, is that Prospero no longer needs his magic because the events of The Tempest have humanised him. He begins the play as a fierce wizard able to conjure up storms, a scary figure who inflicts physical suffering on Caliban and who seems unlikely to keep his word about releasing Ariel. Even Miranda, Prospero’s beloved daughter, recognises that she has been a trial to her father’s patience in the past. When he tells her of being cast away to sea with her Miranda blurts out “Alack, what trouble, was I then to you!” Miranda knows her father well. A few minutes later when Prospero tells her the complete story of his overthrow,



he peppers it bitterly with rebukes to her for not listening: “Dost thou attend me?” “Thou attend’st not.” “Dost thou hear?” Later still when Prospero obliges Ferdinand to carry logs to his cell, he is initially harsh to him. Even when he discovers the couple love each other – as he had hoped – and apologises for having punished Ferdinand “too austerely”, he still threatens him that if he deflowers Miranda before they are wed: “ No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall To make this contract grow: but barren hate, Sour-eyed disdain and discord shall bestrew The union of your bed with weeds so loathly That you shall hate it both: therefore take heed.” This is tantamount to a curse. However Prospero, who has seemed arbitrary and cantankerous for much of the play, does mellow as things begin to go his way. He has waited twelve years to be even with his enemies and now he finally has them at his mercy, he forgives them. While Prospero saves them from the sea, their preservation saves him. Given the opportunity for revenge Prospero declines it. Face to face with old Gonzalo he even weeps: “Holy Gonzalo, honourable man, Mine eyes, even sociable to the show of thine, Fall fellowly drops.”

And now at last he can contemplate the end of his life without bitterness: And thence retire me to my Milan, where every third thought shall be my grave. It is very tempting to find something autobiographical at the end of this play. Shakespeare the playwright is laying down his pen as Prospero lays down his staff. This view is strengthened by the fact that Shakespeare has, throughout The Tempest, shown Prospero behaving like a dramatist. He brings on characters and sends them from the stage; he conjures up effects, cues music and orchestrates events to bring about a happy ending. This interpretation is further strengthened by one of the few biographical details we know about Shakespeare. The Tempest (1611-1612) was the last play he wrote on his own. With that in mind it becomes increasingly apparent that we are watching a great conjurer who wants all to be well and to please his audience so he can finally lay down his pen. Standing on the empty stage and addressing that audience – rather than any of the characters we have been following – Prospero asks us to release him “ With the help of your good hands [our applause]. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill, or else my project fails, Which was to please.” If this was Shakespeare’s farewell to his audience he is indeed breaking his metaphorical staff. Sadly the play wright spoiled this dramatic gesture when he subsequently collaborated with John Fletcher on two lesser plays in his retirement, Henry VIII and Two Noble Kinsmen. But, as we all know, it can be hard to retire.




THE TEMPEST SEASON 2023/24 PREMIÈRE OF THE PRODUCTION 14 JUNE 2015 Publisher WIENER STAATSOPER GMBH, Opernring 2, 1010 Wien Director DR. BOGDAN ROŠČIĆ Music Director PHILIPPE JORDAN Administrative Director DR. PETRA BOHUSLAV General Editors SERGIO MORABITO, ANDREAS LÁNG, OLIVER LÁNG Design & concept EXEX Layout & typesetting MIWA MEUSBURGER Image concept MARTIN CONRADS, BERLIN (Cover) All performance fotos by MICHAEL PÖHN Printed by PRINT ALLIANCE HAV PRODUKTIONS GMBH, BAD VÖSLAU TEXT REFERENCES – ORIGINAL CONTRIBUTION All texts are taken from the premiere programme The Tempest of the Vienna State Opera 2015. BORROWINGS Alex Ross: Rich and Strange, from: The New Yorker, March 2004. ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS Andrew Smith. COVER IMAGE: Vik Muniz, Cloud Cloud, Manhattan, 2002 © Bildrecht, Wien 2024 Reproduction only with approval of Wiener Staatsoper GmbH / Dramaturgy. Holders of rights who were unavailable regarding retrospect compensation are requested to make contact.

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