I assert that we learn Shakespeare better when we study him against the adaptation. Some of the adaptation choices made by opera composers and librettists-- and especially by stage designers in recent productions-- provoke us to critique a production concept for its innovative staging, forcing us to learn more about Shakespeare's original. The recent Metropolitan's The Tempest conveys the 2004 Thomas Adès Tempest as if an 18th century impresario Prospero had conjured or appropriated the contents of the Milan opera house to his island. Meredith Oakes's libretto simplifies much of Shakespearean language to efficient rhyming couplets, yet this opera eloquently captures Prospero's angst, Ferdinand and Miranda's love at first sight, and the tensions created by Caliban and Ariel. Benjamin Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream (1960) was given imaginative staging by Barcelona Opera in 2005 (in a filmed recording of a production that originated in Lyon), and, like the Met's Tempest, was, at time of presentation, available streaming. [Each are preserved on fine quality DVDs. JSU Library patrons can find the call numbers in the list of references.] Britten composed for an Oberon who was a counter tenor, and the adaptation left out all of the first court scene. Staged on a green carpet-like raked surface that we immediately perceive is really a full-stage double bed, with two plush pillows that are themselves bed-sized, the Barcelona staging is refreshing and instructive. The isolated music of opera might strike our students like "strange and several noises" (Tempest 5.1.235). Yet those of us who teach Shakespeare should not shy from adding to our teaching strategies those productions of operatic adaptations of Shakespeare that enhance our notions that Shakespeare can excite us anew when we study recent versions of the plays in production.
Gates, Joanne E. "Shakespeare as Opera in English: Britten's Dream and Adès' The Tempest." Paper presented at: PCAS / ACAS Convention (Popular / American Culture Association of the South). New Orleans, LA. 3 October 2014.
Listed Questions handout for 2 operas Shakespeare
scanprog2operas.pdf (3546 kB)
Convention Program, selected pages
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