The Tempest seems to be a Hot Property these days. The most recent street-level advertising wave in Manhattan is for The Metropolitan Opera’s production (running through November) of Thomas Ades’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s most Magickal play (as well as the one to star a Renaissance Magick-User). The Tempest (the opera) made its premiere at London’s Royal Opera House in 2004, and is here making its Met debut; Prospero is sung by baritone Simon Keenlyside, who as you can see, makes an unusually studly Wizard. The thing that gets me here is, this is such a heavily tattooed Prospero: in trying to fill in the backstory to, what has Prospero been doing, all these years in exile on this island- this production (I guess) imagines that he has gone very Native, and passed his time in body-modification. (This raises the question, who is Prospero’s tattoo-artist? I’m betting it’s Ariel.) This must signal how completely accepted Tattoos are now in American culture, if classical Magick-Users work them on the opera stage. Once “Tattooed Prospero” catches on, what’s next? Prospero with disked ears?
I do not believe that the Gods ever left the Classical Arts, and- although it has been some centuries since anyone produced Classical Painting- Classical Theater, Opera, and Ballet, remain showcases for the Classical. Witness, for instance, The Enchanted Island, which had its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera on New Year’s Eve. Reviewed by Anthony Tommasini in “Shiny Bibelot From Shakespeare, Handel & Co.,” in today’s New York Times (Mon., Jan. 2, 2011, The Arts, p. C1), the “inventive concoction” is a pastiche of various Baroque composers (in the Baroque era, the habit of outfitting music from one opera with new words, and incorporating it into a new work, was common), conflating “with wit and charm” Shakespeare’s The Tempest with Midsummer Night’s Dream (with Ariel substituting for Puck, and introducing the Witch Sycorax- unseen in Shakespeare’s play- as a character). The Star Role, however, is not the Wizard Prospero so much as King Neptune, sung here by Opera Legend Placido Domingo and presented in a “dazzling underwater scene” by Denizens of the Deep singing a derivation of the Handel coronation anthem, “Zadok the Priest.” King Neptune goes on to bemoan that His supreme gift to humans- the “sublime ocean”- has been so thoroughly polluted and despoiled. It sounds like a fascinating show, demonstrating that Classical music, wed to Classical Theater and Classical Deities, can make a powerful contemporary ecological comment.