Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tempest Times Two

(Damn, I love alliteration).

It's been years since I've attended a Cirque du Soleil performance. I figured it was time to make a return to the big yellow and blue tent.

The little company that could has made big. Started in the early 1980s in Quebec as a medley of jugglers, stilt walkers, and other street performers, the circus-that-didn't-feature-animals has become a massive international success story. I love the fact that at one point, the two biggest acts in Las Vegas were from Quebec: Cirque du Soleil and Celine Dion.

The latest touring show to hit Toronto is Amaluna, a name that vaguely and playfully is meant to represent "loving the moon." And, as you might suspect, Amaluna is woman-oriented. Apparently the usual ratio in Cirque shows of male performers to female is 3:1. In Amaluna, it's reversed. The concept for the production, directed by Diane Paulus is taken from Shakespeare's The Tempest. Except, instead of a Prospero, you have a Prospera. There is more of a thread of a plot than in other Cirque shows I've seen and it works well. Cirque du Soleil never strays far from its roots (the opening act consists of two young women madly moving around on unicycles), and yet it takes those skills to incredible heights, sometimes literally. The acrobatics are breathtaking, but always with a little twist, an extra subtext. The duo of a man and a woman suspended in mid air, fighting and tumbling above our heads, becomes a battle of sorts and, ultimately, very erotic.The clowning isn't the creep show it is in traditional circuses, but a more genuinely goofy and charming reflection on the sillyiness of human nature.

The thing I've never enjoyed about Cirque is the music, and yet I must admit it isn't Cirque without it. Redolent of soundtracks to films set in historic, exotic pasts, the music usually features a single woman's voice wailing in vague Eastern-tinged melodies through a powerful sound system. It always puts my teeth on edge, but I can't suggest another option. It just makes sense for Cirque.

I'm glad I went. I'll be back.

Then, this past Saturday, I went to the Metropolitan Opera's HD transmission of Thomas Adès' The Tempest. This opera premiered in 2004 at Covent Garden, and the Met presented it this season in a Robert Lepage production... Lepage who has also worked with Cirque du Soleil. I love these little connections. I have to admit, I'm not a fan of The Tempest... yet. I don't know why but I've yet to see a production of the play that really engaged me. This opera performance came the closest. The hotness that is Simon Keenlyside was Prospero (Adès wrote the role for him), and the rest of the cast was without fault. It did occur to me towards the end, that if, for some reason, Miranda and Ferdinand couldn't leave the island, they would be able to people their little kingdom with the most gorgeous gene pool. They were played by Isabel Leonard and Alek Shrader. Lepage is consistently remarkable and revelatory. Through his vision, Prospero set the tale, through his powers, in a recreation of La Scala... the opera house in Milan, because, after all, Prospero is/was the Duke of Milan. The magical elements were all there, the young lovers were completely believeable, but ultimately it was Keenlyside's embittered Prospero, the angry, rejected man of power, whose magic is the focus for all that pointless rage, that really made the show. Adès's music is dense and layered and I need more listenings of it. There were moments that were so beautiful, like the Act II love duet. And Adès, who was also conducting the piece, was intriguing in the intermission interview; modest and thoughtful.

Prospero (Simon Keenlyside) and Ariel (Audrey Luna) in the Met production, a recreation of Milan's La Scala opera house. Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera

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