Theater review: The Folger Consort's 'Tempest' with Sir Derek Jacobi

By Joan Reinthaler
Friday, June 11, 2010; 6:21 PM

In almost every way, the Folger Consort's collaboration with Sir Derek Jacobi and Richard Clifford on an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Tempest" lives up to the glories the Consort established several years ago with its adaptation of Purcell's "The Fairy Queen."

On Thursday, in the chancel of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Northeast (and again on Friday at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda), Clifford's Caliban sneered and threatened evils to be visited upon Jacobi's Prospero while Holly Twyford, in the triple roles of Ariel, Miranda and the buffoon, Trinculo, performed magic, succumbed instantly to love and cavorted drunkenly. Countertenor David Daniels and baritone Robert McDonald did splendid work in songs by Humfrey, Banister and Reggio; and Daniels, in particular, brought down the house when he nailed a stormy, coloratura-laced Handel aria.

This "Tempest" is Clifford's adaptation of Thomas Shadwell's 1674 adaptation of Shakespeare's play. He's taken the music that Matthew Locke wrote for Shadwell, replaced Shadwell's "augmented" and bowdlerized version of "The Tempest" with the Bard's own words (mostly from the first and last acts) and focused the action on Prospero -- the stormy revenge and the forgiving denouement. With the addition of the songs written for the Shakespeare play, what Clifford has come up with is "Tempest"-the-Musical with just enough original text to hold it all together.

The Consort, augmented for the occasion to 19 strings and woodwinds and performing without a conductor, handled the tempo changes and the elastic phrasing of Locke's French-influenced dances with the exquisite ensemble of true chamber-music performance, testimony to the leadership of Consort artistic directors Robert Eisenstein and Christopher Kendall.

Which brings us to technology and why the collaboration "almost" lived up to previous glories. In one word, amplification. The three actors were wired. These are world-class performers. Their voices are schooled to fill large spaces. They don't need an artificial boost. But someone saw fit to see to it that their lines were piped through speakers, muddied, mechanized and made to sound less than human, and there was feedback -- hums and squeals. Jacobi's wire was adjusted best, and most of his lines emerged pretty well, but Clifford, and most of all Twyford, were victims of our culture's increasing addiction to loudness. For an audience looking forward to a nuanced reading, it was disappointing. But how dispiriting it must have been for performers of this stature and experience can only be imagined.

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