Adès: The Tempest

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Ades
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: The Tempest
PERFORMER: Simon Keenlyside, Cyndia Sieden, Ian Bostridge, Kate Royal, Toby Spence, Philip Langridge; Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Thomas Adès
CATALOGUE NO: 695 2342

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What, no DVD? Not for now, apparently; but here’s a challenge to assess Thomas Adès’s biggest score to date without the luminescent visuals of the Royal Opera production. The luxury of a recording studio would have given this remarkable line-up of singers a chance to do their taxing, tiring roles more justice and to render the thousand nuances written into the vocal lines.

Even so, I suspect the excellent Simon Keenlyside is not the baritone to manage all the full-pelt highs and lows of Prospero’s role – does one exist? – nor was Bostridge cut out to tackle the cruel above-the-stave fortissimos of raging Caliban. The more insane of Ariel’s yappings would tax a coloratura steelier than the soft-grained Cyndia Sieden; and even Kate Royal has problems with Miranda’s mid-to-upper-range tessitura in Act I (curiously, the role was written for a mezzo).

Nevertheless everyone reaches out to the purple passages when Adès touches something rich and strange. Those include the evolution of the young lovers’ music from homages to midsummer Britten and Tippett to the heights of Act II, Ariel’s banquet and masque in Act III, and the ensemble-passacaglia which takes the ultimate centre of gravity from Prospero’s perfunctorily written farewells.

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Librettist Meredith Oakes’s bare paraphrasings of Shakespeare accompany a certain rhythmic stiffness in the vocal writing; the real glories rest with the orchestra. Though I can imagine the buffets being rendered more sharply than they are under Adès at Covent Garden, they are enough to ensure this score’s survival. David Nice