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Last Updated: Monday, 16 February, 2004, 18:02 GMT
The Tempest
The Tempest
Opening this week at the Royal Opera House Ades's Tempest has a libretto by Meredith Oakes which echoes but does not borrow Shakespeare's verse.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review taken from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight Review.)

Michael Portillo, you are a keen Wagnerian. This could have seemed rather lightweight to you, but did it?

No, it did not. I think it's going to be a success. The night we went there, the night of the premiere, evidently it was a success. It was greeted with tremendous acclaim. I think that's going to last. Although I go to opera a lot, my ear isn't good enough to hear music like this on the first occasion and be certain about its success. I thought it had a wonderful opening with The Tempest scene. It had a magnificent quintet in the last act. But already just listening to those extracts there for the second time, having heard them in the theatre first, I was already beginning to enjoy them even more. It seemed a very complete opera. I thoroughly enjoyed the libretto. It's a fully orchestrated, very beautiful piece...

Poor Shakespeare!

No, I think it's a very interesting reading of Shakespeare, I think it has a lot of originality. I thought the staging was excellent. Altogether I think this is something which is a success, and here is a more dangerous prediction, which I think will last.

Now Lisa, this libretto, because it's not the words of Shakespeare, it's very often in rhyming couplets┐

It's doggerel. It shouldn't be on the surtitles. It's actually an armature on which to hang this fantastic music and fantastic setting. And what is so exciting and will make this opera last - I just thought this was brilliant - what will make it last is that Thomas Ades is 32 and the references inside this music, the register of Ariel comes straight out of Michael Nyman's score for Prospero's books. The way that Miranda is played takes a lot from Toya Wilcox in the Derek Jarman film. And then the final quintet is out of the Marriage of Figaro. You get this incredible folding in of the semi-popular, the high art from the contemporary, and great opera, so that you get a truly contemporary bit of music, and then the staging - the red box in which Ferdinand is entranced by Prospero, and the little red box that matches it with the book inside. The extraordinary revolving set with its opening, maybe a book against which people lean and fall. I thought this was fabulous and I thought the ovation it got was genuine and that it is going to go straight into the repertoire.

I beg to differ. For five minutes at the beginning, I thought I was in the presence of something really extraordinary. The first Ariel aria, where she really is singing in this extraordinarily intense pitch, it was hair- raising. It was awesome. But then, for me, the music slid into something much more soupy and much less adventurous. The set was fantastic. The costumes sucked. The libretto was terrible. I thought the rhyming couplets made the composer work very, very hard to try and avoid the glibness at the end of each of these rhyming lines, so he gave us sort of peculiar intervals each time as a kind of dress on the fact that actually this libretto, which in both its verse and the things it was telling us:
"I am a man walking into a room", "He is a man walking into a room." Were simply not very good. I agree with Michael, I would like to listen to the music more because I think there is much more to find in the music.

Wonderful commitment by the singers, by the way. I find it hard to imagine seeing another group of people sing it.

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