By Marcina Zaccaria
At The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gotham Chamber Opera creates a visionary production of The Tempest Songbook, co-produced with the Martha Graham Dance Company.
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, find themselves stranded on an island. Through storms and fires, they define themselves in the context of this new world. Gotham Chamber Opera’s The Tempest Songbook celebrates the pioneering spirit of Shakespeare’s work. Through the difficult voyage, the spirit of the warrior and the survivor are found.
The sorcerer Prospero is not beyond challenging the earth and the sky in this breathtaking production. Prospero’s commanding presence is something to behold. Bass-Baritone Thomas Richards finds both power and stillness through the roaring, shrieking, howling of creation. His performance becomes quite balanced with the other five performers onstage. Soprano Jennifer Zetlan’s performance is incredibly unifying. By the end of the performance, their myth is less troubling than whimsical, as the performers skillfully lead the audience on a journey through the storm to discover their Halcyon Days.
Graham Dancers, Peiju Chien-Pott, Abdiel Jacobsen, Lloyd Mayor, Xiaochuan Xie fearlessly lead on this timeless journey. Their choreography works seamlessly with the singers. Solos are distinct. Lifts are elegant, and the shapes sometimes veer towards contortion.
Video, projected onto a globe raised above the stage, adds to the composition. Multi-media artist Jean-Baptiste Barrière uses state of the art technology. Exploding skylines and volcanic reds create awe-inspiring visuals. Blurred motion of dancers on the globe is breathtaking. The globe goes through many changes through this 60 minute production. By the end of the evening, the world seems settled with performers.
Direction and choreography by Luca Veggetti is absolutely sensible. She allows a brilliant interpretation, defined by Prospero, Ariel, and Caliban. The movement is intricate, and the lyrics are clear. In this smart, tempered drama, the singer’s lyrics are projected on supertitles on both sides of the stage. The distillation of text really serves the drama. With nothing excessive or superfluous, the best of music, dance, and video can emerge.
It is triumph for Gotham Chamber Opera, whose previous productions include La bella dormente nel bosco, at Lincoln Center Festival and Spoleto USA and the Morgan Library and Museum for Scenes of Gypsy Life (an evening of song cycles by Janáček and Dvořák) in 2008. The Tempest Songbook was conducted by Neal Goren. Music was by Henry Purcell and Kaija Saariaho. Scenic design by Clifton Taylor and Luca Veggetti. Costume design by Peter Speliopoulos allows effortless, fluid movement onstage, and lighting design by Clifton Taylor, brings out pinks and oranges.
The Tempest Songbook was performed in The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It ran from Friday, March 27 through Sunday, March 29, 2015.
*Photos Richard Termine