Friday Fun: Full Fathom Five (Adès)

This is not the kind of music I normally find appealing, being atonal and deeply, deeply strange.  It’s from Thomas Adès’s recent opera of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.  This aria belongs to Ariel, an airy spirit, and is sung here  by Audrey Luna. It’s positively (and appropriately) unearthly.

Are you awake now?

The lyrics, in case you didn’t catch them, are a re-wording of Shakespeare’s verse from Act I, Scene 2 of the Tempest:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark!  Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell.– William Shakespeare





Five fathoms deep
Your father lies
These are pearls
That were his eyes
Nothing of him
That was mortal
Is the same.
His bones are coral
He has suffered
A sea change
Into something
Rich and strange
Sea-nymphs hourly
Ring his knell.
I can hear them
Ding dong bell.
– Meredith Oakes

I like the way the Oakes version almost has the rhythm of a chant or an incantation.

I am both repelled and compelled by this music.  I find it hard to discern a melody in it, but the high notes make me want to laugh with joy – who even writes music like that?  (Thomas Adès does, evidently).  I just love Ariel’s inhuman melodies, especially in Fear to the Sinner, Ariel’s first aria (sung here by Cyndia Sieden) with all its rapid leaps into the stratosphere and back down to the merely high (17 top Es in less than two minutes, oy.).  It must be confessed that on first hearing this, I couldn’t stop giggling, and then spent the next few days wandering around the house squeaking at Andrew at random intervals, in imitation of Ariel’s strange, strange music (I can’t get that high, hence the squeaking).

… I honestly don’t know what else to say about this.  But I do like this little page and clip, titled “My wife is an alien“, which shows Hila Plitmam (yes, there are at least three singers in the world who can sing this aria.  It amazes me, too) practicing Fear to the Sinner at home, with no orchestral accompaniment – I find that one gets a really interesting sense of what the song is doing when one is not distracted by the orchestral accompaniment.


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0 comments for “Friday Fun: Full Fathom Five (Adès)

  1. Andrew McLean
    November 5, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Does it surprise you that this is my favorite of your music posts so far?

    • November 5, 2012 at 11:58 pm

      Not one tiny little bit.

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