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Lee Hoiby

Publisher: G. Schirmer

The Tempest (1985)
Work Notes
Revised 2008
Text Writer
Libretto by Mark Shulgasser after the play by Shakespeare.
G Schirmer Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Year Composed
2 Hours 10 Minutes
SATB chorus
Solo Instrument(s)
coloratura Soprano, 2 Sopranos, 2 Tenors, 4 Baritones, 2 Basses, Bass Baritone, Mezzo soprano, Countertenor

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Programme Note
Lee Hoiby The Tempest (1985)
[Note: A revised vocal score reflecting changes made for the 2008 production and recording is available for sale as Print on Demand via our Rental Library.]

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Cast List:

   PROSPERO, the rightful Duke of Milan; a magician: Bass Baritone
   MIRANDA, his daughter: Soprano
   ARIEL, an airy spirit of the island: Coloratura Soprano
   FERDINAND, son to Alonso. the King of Naples: Lyric Baritone
   CALIBAN, a savage native, Prospero's slave: Dramatic Tenor
   TRINCULO, a jester: Baritone
   STEPHANO, a drunken butler: Bass

   ALONSO, King of Naples: Bass
   GONZALO, his honest old counselor: Tenor
   SEBASTIAN, his brother: Baritone
   ANTONIO, the usurping Duke of Milan, Prospero's brother: Baritone

   IRIS: Lyric Soprano
   CERES: Mezzo-Soprano
   JUNO: Contralto

Twelve years ago, Prospero, the Duke of Milan, and also a great magician, was exiled with his infant daughter Miranda to a deserted island by his treacherous brother, allied with the King of Naples. Now his enemies' ships have strayed near his shore, and with the aid of Ariel, the airy spirit who serves him, Prospero has the opportunity to revenge himself. But he finally chooses forgiveness, consecrated in the wedding of Miranda and Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples.


Act I
As a furious storm abates, Miranda tells her father, Prospero, of seeing a ship caught in the storm. Prospero assures her that no harm came to the ship or to its passengers. He recalls how, twelve years ago, his brother, allied with the King of Naples, deposed him as Duke of Milan and set him adrift with Miranda on the open sea. Ariel reports that following Prospero’s orders, the storm was used to separate the King’s ship from its fleet. Ariel now requests release from servitude but Prospero angrily tells him that, as promised, freedom will be granted in due time. Following the phantom voices of Ariel and his spirits, Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples, appears and he and Miranda fall instantly in love. Prospero has Ariel lead him away. Caliban rants to Prospero that the island by rights belongs to him, and that he should not be forced to labor for him. Prospero threatens severe punishments if the work is not completed. Stephano, the King’s butler, arrives carrying a jug of wine and Caliban now swears to serve Stephano in return for payment of wine. Trinculo joins them as they all stumble off drunkenly.

Act II
Alonso, the King of Naples, is grief stricken at the loss of his son, Ferdinand, as Gonzalo tries to cheer him. When all suddenly fall asleep, Sebastian and Antonio plot to kill the King so that Sebastian can replace him. They draw their swords, but are magically frozen in place. Ariel observes the scene he has conjured and then allows the spells to fade. The King decides they should move on in search of Ferdinand. Caliban convinces Stephano and Trinculo to help him kill Prospero and become rulers of the island. Ariel attempts to foil them but the prospect of having Miranda as their mistress seals the bargain. The King and his party stop to rest. Antonio and Sebastian renew their plot and Ariel appears announcing that their situation is punishment for their crime against Prospero. The King cries out in horror.

Ferdinand and Miranda exchange expressions of affection. Prospero invokes a spectacle of goddesses that blesses the union before renouncing his powers and meditating on the illusory nature of all things. Ariel, on Prospero’s orders, leads in a dazed King and his court. The King renounces claim to the dukedom and Ariel presents Miranda and Ferdinand in wedding finery. Prospero forgives those who wronged him and Ariel anticipates her liberty. A finale of joyous thanksgiving is celebrated.

Composer and Librettist note:

Substantial revisions of The Tempest took place after the premiere in Des Moines in 1986 and the second production in Kansas City the following year. The published vocal score incorporating these changes was first produced in Dallas in 1996. It lacks the second act ballet of sprites with the appearing and disappearing banquet. Otherwise, the alterations [made for 2008] are small, meticulous and many — a continuation of the post-compositional shaping and reining process. For Purchase College [2008 and as heard on the commercial recording], Ariel’s harpy aria (“You three men of sin”), to which the aforesaid ballet had been an introduction, has been trimmed considerably. In both the post-premiere changes and the new Purchase revision the second act, dominated by the minor characters, couriers and comics, is altered the most. The curtain is made less emphatic, and now the second intermission may be replaced by a pause. The villains who play a role in act two are reduced to a few good sulfurous whiffs, rather than grumbling all over the scene, and genial Gonzalo’s garrulousness has been abridged. In whole, the playing time has been reduced by about 15 percent.

A word remains about my aims and choices in the abridgement of Shakespeare’s play: I’ve simply rearranged the sequence of a few scenes to uncover a spine more unified and direct than is apparent in the play’s episodic scenography. I’ve resisted the pressure to simplify or modernize the Bard’s diction, which is not only patronizing of the audience, but would rob the composer of the very lyric inspiration which it is my whole purpose to provide him. Shakespeare lives in his actual words, not in his plots, so I’ve tried to make directly available as much of Shakespeare’s incomparable text and possible.

The Tempest is, for many, one of the “problem” plays — obviously profound, the last major work, but what’s it all about really? Where’s the drama if Prospero controls everything? Where’s his drama in foreknown renunciation? The climactic moment is introspective. The most attractive characters are not even human. The finale is desultory, irresolute, petering out into an apology to the audience. The clowns and the courtiers overstay their welcome and burden us with topical references. The lovers are scanted; they lack the youthful freshness of their likenesses in the earlier plays. The play’s apparent occasion, a commission for a royal betrothal, calls for dampening admonitions about premarital chastity, which the playwright delivers with disturbing sincerity. The substantial Masque was also required by the occasional nature of the commission; we are not used to seeing Shakespeare tethered to an assignment, introducing undramatic entertainments. In one way or another I grappled with each of these famous issues in my adaptation, under Geoffrey Hartman’s provocative definition: “…opera, a powerful setting for homeless visionary clichés.”

— Mark Shulgasser

The Tempest (Act II)
The Tempest (Act III)

Since its 1986 premiere, The Tempest has undergone two revisions, each further streamlining the work to its essentials. This third version is perhaps the charm. The drama was taut without seeming truncated, and the musical flow seemed natural. This fine production featured a combination of professionals and SUNY Purchase students. Jacque Trussel, who created and performed the role of Caliban in the premiere performances, served quite well as director.
Arlo McKinnon, Opera News,01/05/2008
Dallas Opera came up with a winner in Lee Hoiby's The Tempest. [It] is a real opera, melodious and sensitively orchestrated. Hoiby's music is rock solid and absorbing, and enhances the text instead of competing with it. His Act II [aria for Caliban] "Be not afeared " may be the most beautiful aria written into an opera for nearly fifty years. This sumptuously, beautifully written modern masterpiece stacked up as Dallas Opera's most enjoyable contemporary effort in memory.
John Briggs, Opera News,22/11/1996
Granted, Shakespeare's The Tempest is already perfect without music. But audiences are all the richer for American composer Lee Hoiby's operatic setting. The real star of the show is Hoiby's music, always beautifully and colorfully orchestrated around a constant flow of melody...with a fluid lyricism pulling into some magnificent sweeping set numbers. Hoiby is clearly hypnotized by the spell of Shakespeare's words [as] the opera builds to a chilling, ceremonial grandeur in the final apotheosis.
Wayne Lee Gay, Fort Worth Star-Telegram,22/11/1996
Hoiby's opera The Tempest utilizes traditional forms and practices. It is intensely melodic, lush, rich, full, colorful... His musical form is always perfectly suited to the libretto. Hoiby's orchestration is masterful. The music is intriguingly constructed, with gratifying solo and ensemble music for vocal and instrumental groups, written with great understanding and flair that continually appeals to the imagination.
John McCauley, Notes,01/09/1996
American composer Lee Hoiby's THE TEMPEST [is an] operatic retelling of Shakespeare's last play. Hoiby's score sidesteps angular modernism in favor of richly textured melodies, tonality and conventional structure. There is a gentleness and sweetness to this music, which seems shot through with a pervasive sense of nostalgia. The orchestration is subtle, complex and clever, and follows Shakespeare's original text with a great deal of reverence for the story and language. The beauty of the language is foremost. Hoiby seems almost hyper-aware of Shakespeare's poetry. Typically, he wrapped up the famous "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep," with the sweetest of string lines. His music heightens, rather than diminishes… [With] challenging roles and notable duets, nothing really tops the finale - the siren-like wedding masque. The vocal harmonies are absolutely seraphic, with a shimmering quality slightly reminiscent of Delibes' LAKMÉ. Hoiby and the POV succeed in conjuring up a magical island suffused, in Shakespeare's words, by the "sounds and sweet airs of a thousand twangling instruments."
Adrian Chamberlain, Victoria Times Colonist,01/01/0001
"The Tempest" has always been something of an enigma among Shakespeare's plays. Autobiographical elements have often been attributed to what was his final drama. The play has at times been interpreted as a meditation on the playwright's own body of work and its value; the character of Prospero has been viewed by some as a representation of Shakespeare himself. Shulgasser has adopted this interpretation, setting the play as a dream conjured by the sleeping playwright's own unconscious mind. This gives the play the quality of a fantasy, supported by Hoiby's buoyant, shimmering music, which is largely through-composed in arioso style, with minimal use of recitative. The orchestration is richly luxuriant, contributing to the pervasively dreamlike, magical quality of the work. The result maintains a mood of affectionate detachment, which effectively captures and combines its various elements into a consistently engaging and appealing whole.
Merlin Patterson, Fanfare Magazine, Nov/Dec 2009,01/01/0001
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