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Eaton's meticulous planning extends even to the opera's rhythmic structure, with each character assigned his or her own basic tempo. Act II, for example, closes with a stirring, cacophonous ensemble of clashing rhythms and timbres as all the major characters sing simultaneously and Prospero exults, "My high charms work!/ and these, mine enemies, are all knit up/ in their distractions. They are in my power." What Eaton has done is not merely to set Porter's concise, three-act libretto, but to retell it in musical terms, creating a cognate of Shakespeare's play. It is a formidable intellectual as well as musical accomplishment.
The Santa Fe company gives The Tempest a vivid production. The cast is generally excellent, as are the sets and lighting, and Bliss Hebert's direction is tight and focused. Conductor Richard Bradshaw tackles the score with panache, bringing Eaton's music ringing to life.
Henze's The English Cat was first performed in Germany in 1983 and is now presented in America in English. Henze, one of the leading contemporary opera composers, has suppressed his penchant for blatant politicization to produce a subtle, cautionary fable. Bond's libretto tells the story of a pacifist band of petit bourgeois cats who have formed the Royal Society for the Protection of Rats and have been rearing a young orphan mouse. The plot concerns the ill-starred triangle of Tom (Baritone Scott Reeve), Minette (Soprano Inga Nielsen) and her husband Lord Puff (Tenor Michael Myers). Seeing the fatal outcome of the affair, the mouse Louise wisely decides not to rely on the professed good intentions of natural enemies.
Henze's score displays the composer's familiar mastery of a variety of musical idioms, from a seductive rooftop serenade to a dry Stravinskian neoclassicism that accompanies the cat's pompous posturings. The delightful storybook production by Charles Ludlam, founder of New York's Ridiculous Theatrical Company, turns the opera into a tragicomedy in the vein of a 19th century melodrama, but one with a pointed moral. In a season that also includes Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld and Strauss's neglected Die Liebe der Danae, Santa Fe has proved once again that it is the most adventurous, if not to say eclectic, opera company around. --By Michael Walsh