The Tempest Songbook at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
It is widely believed that The Tempest is Shakespeare’s last play. If so, the 1610-11 (the composition date is also a matter of speculation) revenge drama is his most theatrical. He mixed in magic, terror, romance, comic relief, Renaissance global warming, island creatures, and the ethereal Elizabethan notion of the Music of the Spheres – where the universe moves in harmony to create its own metaphysical music. Prospero, the exiled nobleman/master wizard, renounces his powers over his island domain to return home and set the world right for his daughter Miranda.
The theatrics in Gotham Chamber Opera’s The Tempest Songbook are all in its concept. Receiving its premiere at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is a successful combination of Kaija Saariaho’s 2004 Tempest Songbook and incidental music composed in 1695 for Shakespeare’s play by Henry Purcell. It is inaccurate labeling the Songbook a pastiche or mash-up because the result is a sophisticated rumination rather than a reinterpretation. Though centuries apart, the Finnish and British composers complement each other; Tempest’s dueling natures with Saariaho’s music representing the dark while Purcell’s the light.
The “great globe itself” Prospero calls his home in exile is essential in this production. A large clay globe on rope projects video images created by Jean-Baptiste Barrière of plot essentials not covered in the songs, maps of the two Tempest sea voyages impacting the story, and feelings expressed in the music. Set designer Clifton Taylor decorates the island with simple, plain wooden benches and one rope hung diagonally across the stage – a homage to guest artists from The Martha Graham Dance Company. Graham always worked ropes into her dances and scenery, particularly for those dealing with myth and sex.
Only two members of Gotham Chamber Opera join conductor/finding artistic director Neal Goren and the orchestra onstage – and they are fantastic. As John Gielgud did in Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books, baritone Thomas Richards takes on all the male roles. Soprano Jennifer Zetlan is Miranda, the island’s only human female. Zetlan even joins the Graham soloists in dances by director/choreographer Luca Veggetti.
The four Graham dancers, Abdiel Jacobsen, Lloyd Mayor, PeiJu Chien-Pott, Ying Xin, populate Prospero’s island. Like the singers, they are dressed in simple, contemporary practice clothes. Veggetti not only gives them “modern dances”, he works them effortlessly into the concept. The Tempest Songbook may be the brainchild of Gotham Chamber Opera, but the Graham dancers are its spirit.
Photos: Julieta Cervantes
The Tempest Songbook is on at The Metropolitan Museum of Art until 29th March 2015, for further information or to book visit here.