Ades (The) Tempest
Thomas Adès’s “ism”-defying output gains in variety all the time, but whatever he comes up with in the future it is likely that The Tempest will remain one of his most significant achievements. Premiered at Covent Garden in 2004, and recorded here at the revival two years ago, Adès’s second opera succeeds where most Tempest adaptations have failed: in adding something to Shakespeare’s magical and inherently lyrical scenario. From the tornado-like prelude to Ariel’s stratospheric yet ethereal “Five fathoms deep” the music illuminates rather than merely illustrates the drama. It may not be a flawless masterpiece - Meredith Oakes’s otherwise musical libretto relies on some clunky rhythms, and Adès could occasionally have tightened his writing, notably in Act 3 - but it is one of the most viable and stageworthy of modern British operas.
Most of this recording’s cast created their roles, and the performances have a lived-in feel. Yet even the newcomer, Kate Royal as Miranda, is fully inside her part and sings alluringly; admirers of the soprano will be pleased to have her auspicious Covent Garden debut preserved on disc. For many, the most memorable writing in The Tempest comes attached to Ariel’s vocal high-wire act. Few coloratura sopranos are able to dispatch it like Cyndia Sieden, whose sound lends special colour to the performance, and it is hardly her fault that her stratospheric flights leave the words almost unintelligible.
Simon Keenlyside, on the young side as Prospero, mixes brain and baritonal brawn in his characteristically charismatic way. Ian Bostridge sings unstintingly as a wonderfully weird Caliban - and his Peter Pears-ish voice strengthens the impression of the character as an outsider. His younger tenor colleague, Toby Spence, is a fine Ferdinand. Philip Langridge’s King of Naples and Jonathan Summers’s Sebastian represent luxury casting in a recording made under the composer’s own baton. The playing of the Covent Garden orchestra is another luxury - no, a necessity, given the brilliantly conceived and demanding orchestral aspect of this piece.