When Thomas Adès conducted his opera The Tempest at the Royal OperaHouse, Covent Garden in 2007, EMI Classics in association with BBC Radio 3 recorded this “masterpiece of airy beauty and eerie power.” (Alex Ross, The New Yorker). The cast included Simon Keenlyside, Cynthia Sieden, Ian Bostridge, Toby Spence, Kate Royal, Philip Langridge, and Stephen Richardson, many of whom took part in the critically acclaimed world premiere three years earlier.
Edward Seckerson of The Independent wrote, “In the three years since its premiere, Thomas Adès and Meredith Oakes’s haunting re-imagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest has marinated in the mind. It now has the bearing of a modern classic. With a second, or in my case, third visit, you really start to appreciate the ingenious way in which Oakes alludes to Shakespeare without necessarily quoting him. Then there is Adès’s instinctive feeling for the pulse of the drama, his unerring sense of the magic that may provide the key to ‘a brave new world’ where the sins of the parents might not be revisited on the children.”
Rupert Christiansen of The Daily Telegraph said, “it’s hard to imagine a better case for the piece than the one made by this performance. Authoritatively conducted by the composer … it was blessed with a magnificent cast.”
The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, commissioned Thomas Adès to compose a new opera in the late 1990s, following the success of Powder Her Face. The opera became a co-production with the Copenhagen Opera House and Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg. The Tempest received its world premiere at the Royal Opera House in February 2004. Productions in Strasbourg and Copenhagen followed in 2005 and the work was performed at Santa Fe Opera in the summer of 2006.
The libretto by Meredith Oakes is based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Rather than transfer Shakespeare’s words directly, Oakes has reduced much of the text to its essence, and produced a compact libretto with the bulk of the text presented in the form of rhyming couplets. In the words of Alex Ross, “Adès wisely assigned the libretto to Meredith Oakes, a seasoned playwright who had the guts to rewrite Shakespeare … Veterans of contemporary premières will be relieved to find that for once a librettist and a composer have taken charge of a sacred text and made it their own. This libretto is designed to be sung.”
In the opera, Prospero (Simon Keenleyside), the rightful Duke of Milan, has magical powers and lives on an island with his daughter Miranda (Kate Royal), a half human, Caliban (Ian Bostridge), and the spirit, Ariel (Cynthia Sieden), who carries out Prospero’s wishes. Through Ariel, Prospero causes a violent storm (a tempest) to wreck the ship of King Alonso of Naples (Philip Langridge), which is also carrying his son Ferdinand (Toby Spence), Prospero’s brother Antonio (Donald Kaasch) and their courts. Prospero then ensures, via Ariel, that the passengers are saved and washed ashore onto Prospero’s island. Ferdinand and Miranda fall in love and there are a host of other adventures and plots before Prospero reveals himself to the visitors, makes his peace with Alonso, forgives his brother and grants Ariel her freedom.
Thomas Adès has an exclusive contract, as composer, pianist and conductor, with EMI Classics, for whom he has recorded works by Janáček, Schubert, Kurtág, Castiglione, Stravinsky, Grieg and Busoni, as well as almost all of his own music.